The Nash Ensemble – From My Homeland

Bagatelles, Op.47
String Quintet No.2 in G, Op.111
The Fisherman
Piano Quintet in A, Op.81

The Nash Ensemble [Ian Brown (piano), Marianne Thorsen, Benjamin Nabarro & Malin Broman (violins), Lawrence Power & Philip Dukes (violas), Paul Watkins (cello), Duncan McTier (double bass), Lucy Wakeford (harp) & Shelagh Sutherland (harmonium)] with Eleanor Bron (reciter)

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 6 December, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The Nash Ensemble. ©Maurice J. BeznosAlmost halfway through its season of concerts celebrating Czech music, “From my Homeland”, the Nash Ensemble presented a programme guaranteed to bring a smile to any audience on a cold Winter’s night. Two of Dvořák’s sunniest chamber works along with the autumnal glow of Brahms (an honorary Bohemia because of his close association with Dvořák) and some rare and poetic Smetana completing the bill of fare.

Dvořák’s five Bagatelles were originally composed for parties held at the home of a music-critic friend. Wanting a keyboard part but knowing there was only a harmonium in the house, Dvořák scored the music appropriately. The use of this instrument gives the short pieces a rustic and pastoral feel to what are some the composer’s most charming miniatures. From the first bars, the Nash Ensemble adopted exactly the right approach: the musicians’ precision, articulation, clarity, warmth and rhythmic flexibility allowed these pieces to shine. The highlight was the beautifully shaped ‘Canon’: elegant, passionate and wonderfully free-flowing.

Equally enjoyable but very different was the Second of Brahms’s string quintets. Dating from 1890, after he’d finished his final symphony, the work finds the composer in reflective mood, the employment of two violas adding richness of tone. And it was the deep, autumnal hues that the Nash brought out with broad tempos allowing the music to breathe. The opening movement was exhilarating, Paul Watkins’s beautifully rhythmic cello underpinning and driving the whole. The Adagio was beautifully articulated and phrased, the finale finely judged and played with great rhythmic elan.

The rarely performed Smetana is an interesting curio. One of three ‘tableaux vivants’ with accompanying music performed at a fundraising concert in 1869, “The Fisherman” is inspired by a ballad by Goethe. It tells the story of a fisherman seduced by a water-nymph who lures him to a watery grave. Smetana’s score is appropriately suggestive with muted strings, harp and harmonium providing the accompaniment. Eleanor Bron’s voice was lightly amplified which muffled the hard German consonants but had the effect of making her sound as if she was reciting from below the waves. Seductive in looks and erotically-charged in voice this would have seduced any lonely fisherman!

Dvořák’s Piano Quintet is one of his great masterpieces, fusing lyricism and folk-like dances with some of the composer’s most beautiful melodies. The Nash’s many qualities were in abundance: crisp articulation, magnificent precision and exquisite phrasing. Ian Brown’s darting piano a delight, perfectly balanced. That said, the opening movement felt a little hard-driven and a tad rushed. A more relaxed approach with a bit more ‘air’ to allow the lyrical opening theme more breathing-space was missed. The transformation into the coda was thrilling, though. The second-movement ‘Dumka’ didn’t quite strike the right balance between the melancholic slow passages and the faster episodes, the former a bit plodding, the latter a trifle rushed, but the scherzo was gloriously fresh and vital, Brown’s playing beautifully articulated and a model of discretion. The closing Allegro, urgent and joyful with jaunty, rollicking rhythms was a delight. Overall, a fabulous evening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content