ENSEMBLE 360 at CAST, DONCASTER           Sat Oct 9th 2021

ENSEMBLE 360 at CAST, DONCASTER Sat Oct 9th 2021

Ample applause, foot-stomping and broad smiles of delight erupted as the music ended with a final, fiery flourish. There were sighs of relief, too, that pianist Tim hadn’t fallen off the end of his topless Steinway, and that the frantic bows of the string players hadn’t flown off into the audience! This exciting evening of invigorating music ended, you see, with the passionate, headlong, Hungarian Gypsy finale of Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor. For the first time since lockdown, Music in the Round’s Crucible-based Ensemble 360 was on the road again, reminding everyone how much they’d missed their intimate in-the-round musical experience.

It all started with a piano trio by Amy Beach (1867-1944), an American composer and pianist who is yet to gain the wider recognition she deserves as the first successful female, American composer of large-scale musical. A prodigy from an early age, Amy had no European training at all, but even this short trio is packed with a whole range of mood, pace, textures and intensity. As the music travels from mournful, wistful longings through bright ripples and striding, striving poundings, there are times when it feels Rachmaninov, and even Chopin, have dropped in on a Palm Court tea-dance.

Next on the bill – Mozart’s 1786 Piano Quartet in E flat. There were complaints at the time that the pieces Mozart was commissioned to write were turning out far too complex for any audience of the day to enjoy, so he’d been told, in fact, that he shouldn’t bother writing any more, thank you very much. He wrote this, anyway, and seemingly had a Yorkshire audience in mind for this one relished every twiddly trill and bendy semi-tone, and delighted in the soothing beauty of echoing melodies and the rich drama of the sudden, urgent changes of direction.

Fast-forwarding almost eighty years, we arrived next at the first of Brahms’ three piano quartets, his Quartet in G minor, written when he was twenty-eight, and discovered just how much music had moved on. In the style of a symphony, huge arcs of music take us on an epic journey, grand, expansive, effusive, indulgent, full of rich, broad emotion and finishing with a tour de force of blistering firework rhythms. At its 1861 premiere in Hamburg, Clara Schumann played the piano part; in Vienna, Brahms played it himself. Tonight it was Tim Horton taking on the challenge, with Gemma Rosefield on mellow cello, Ben Nabarro on violin and a revered Simon Rowland Jones standing in as viola player, all playing with a communal commitment, joy, love and panache that thrilled those listening. A wonderful program and a wonderful evening.

Eileen Caiger Gray

Details of all Ensemble 360’s upcoming performances in Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster and elsewhere, including the brand new Izzy Gizmo family concert, can be viewed on their website.