Eileen Caiger Gray reviews Ensemble 360 at Doncaster Cast
Since eleven brilliant, world-class musicians first came together in 2005 as Ensemble 360, perky programmes of vibrant, exciting music, soulfully played, have been guaranteed. Mix and match permutations of pianist, string and wind players provide ample scope for a vast array of works performed as solo, duo, trio, quartet, quintet, sextet, septet, octet, nonet, decet, or full team of eleven (an undecet, would you believe!)
Playerwise, it was a 6-3-5 formation tonight as Matthew Hunt’s trusty clarinet wove its musical way through three intriguing works – a sextet, a trio and a quintet.
First treat on offer at this intimate-yet-informal, in-the-round venue was Aaron Copland’s striking, dynamic sextet. Written for clarinet, string quartet and piano in 1937, it was a reworking of Copland’s own Short Symphony, which he’d composed some years earlier. To the American’s immense frustration, even top orchestras found its complicated rhythms far too difficult, so his beloved symphony never got played – not once! His resulting sextet is not exactly a walk in the park for players, either, with frightening numbers of complex rhythms and frequent time changes providing constant challenges for even top calibre musicians. The drama dashes along in lively, spiky splashes that pulse, hiccup, trot, clop and pound along as if in a frantic, impassioned hurry until fabulous contrasts, especially in the lento movement, bring a beauty of deep contemplation and welcome, restorative quiet. Well worth all the extra hard work, then.
Clarinettist Matt next relished the chance to play a personal favourite in performing three of Max Bruch’s Acht Stucke, numbers 1,2 and 6. The eight mini pieces were composed in 1908 for Bruch’s clarinettist son. The composer, by now in his older years, preferred to stick with the glorious, romantic, tried-and-tested style of his younger days rather than move on – and to wonderful effect. The trio of Ruth Gibson’s mellow viola, Hunt’s clarinet and Tim Horton’s piano provides further treats, viola and clarinet working magically together in lyrical melodies and elegant harmonies and achieving rich, beautiful blends and interplays.
Brahms postponed his retirement to write his clarinet quintet in 1891, inspired by the wonderful playing of clarinettist Richard Muhlfeld. With great beauty, the clarinet blends in or strikes out from the rich, close texture of the string quartet, the instruments providing moments of sweet, melancholic melody and tender delicacy as well as rapid runs and a varied tapestry of techniques as players express the heartfelt beauty of the music.
Wonderful programmes of music like this ensure music-lovers will keep falling deeper in love with music than ever.
www.musicintheround.co.uk has details of all Ensemble 360’s work and performances, live and on radio, and more information about all the work of their internationally acclaimed players.