What a Breeze!

EndymionAn odd title perhaps, but the Endymion Ensemble’s name for their concert in Milverton Church last Friday was ‘A Breeze Through France and Germany’ a perhaps not inappropriate title for a largely wind ensemble. It was pointed out by one of their members that Mozart was Austrian and that the Beethoven piece was written in Vienna, but no one was all that bothered by geographical pedantry – the music was what mattered! And brilliant music it was.

To read the CV’s of the individual members was impressive enough – to have them playing for us as a group made sense of what is often a cliché, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’. So it was last Friday.

The Endymion was founded in 2004 and although the members occasionally vary, all the players we heard have a long association with each other, something which showed significantly in their first class ensemble playing. That said, in the opening allegro of the Mozart Quintet K452, it took a little while for the balance to be established. At first I felt that Michael Dussek’s piano line was a little too reticent and then later he was occasionally just a little too prominent in places – these are ungenerous nitpicks; the overall blend and balance of the ensemble was generally of the highest quality. One must also remember that since Mozart’s time, the power and timbre of every instrument we heard has been subject to development and change and that the overall sound we heard may have been very different from what was produced in 1784!

The rapport between the players was absolute and in the first movement I was particularly struck by the fine piano articulation and the gorgeous phrasing of the oboe passages by Melinda Maxwell. Can one have a big intimate sound? In the second movement they managed just that, producing great sonority, but it was a sound in which every line came through with great clarity. The final movement, based on an unsophisticated melody, was beautifully developed and embellished by different combinations of instruments and romped to a joyous conclusion.

The piano was replaced by the flute of Helen Keen in the next item, a new arrangement of Stravinsky’s ‘Pulcinella’ suite of 1922. Loosely based on the music of Palestrina, the ballet ‘Pulcinella’ was a huge success for the composer and even this reduced suite shows why.

The familiar Overture was played with great decisiveness and I loved Mark van der Wiel’s lovely clarinet flutters in the Serenade, a movement with very Stravinskian note clusters and odd harmonies. The complex rhythms and interplay of lines in the Tarantella were impressively handled by all players. The melancholy tune and timbre of the Andantino led into some wonderfully sprightly and skittish oboe and flute playing over a rustic accompaniment from Meyrick Alexander on bassoon and Stephen Stirling on French horn. A lovely Gavotte and two variations led into a very stately, even ponderous, Minuet but the cheeky interjections kept it from becoming too serious. The final Allegro, crawling with rhythmic pitfalls was a tour de force, beautifully executed.

After the interval we heard Beethoven’s Opus 16 Quintet, said to have been inspired by the Mozart. The Grave opening was sublime – lovely ensemble but crystal clear lines. The piano part in the first Allegro is very prominent, but the other instruments are not relegated to an accompanying role – they all have some quite declamatory moments. The second movement resembles a Beethoven piano sonata movement with instrumental interludes and each of the players had their chance to sing. The finale starts with a perky tune on the piano embellished by the other instruments as the movement proceeds. Beethoven’s pre-eminence as a pianist really shows in the very demanding piano part in this movement – echoes of the concertos were evident. The whole group gave us a rousing finish.

Finally, Poulenc’s Sextet for Piano and Winds gave everyone a chance to let their hair down and we were not disappointed. The gloriously jazzy and abandoned start managed to be raunchy and elegant at the same time, before the bassoon ushered in a more dreamy middle section. Here Helen’s beautifully French-sounding flute meshed perfectly with the wistful oboe and horn phrases. The second movement featured a languorous clarinet followed by a jaunty horn tune which led to a series of perky phrases tossed around from player to player. The lush, exciting almost manic finale was a brilliant end to a musical masterpiece, played to perfection by an ensemble of the highest quality.
Thanks, Milverton Concert Society – you’ve done it again.

Review by Harold W. Mead – 27/11/17