[Bath Mozartfest 2015]
As the players created a rich and luscious body of sound, the opening concert of this annual celebration proved totally satisfying
Bath's annual celebration of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is itself celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Amelia Freedman is artistic director both of this festival and of the Nash Ensemble, and this opening concert given by the ensemble's string-players was a reflection of Freedman's happy knack of creating programmes that are not obviously adventurous but turn out to be unexpectedly satisfying.
The starting point here was Mozart's late quintet in D major, K593, known to have been played at a party gathering in Vienna in December 1790, with Mozart and Haydn taking it in turns to play the first viola part. Hearing Lawrence Power bring his ravishing viola tone and profound musical insight to those lines was one delight; another was the sense of Mozart consciously indulging in thematic playfulness and contrapuntal writing so as to pay the best possible compliment to Haydn, his first master in this regard.
In his string Quintet in E flat major, Op 97, Dvorak followed Mozart's example in using two violas, going even further in exploiting the depth of colour and timbre they offered. Dvorak also invoked the spirit of Haydn in the slow movement's variations on a double theme, the balance of lyricism and poignancy realised with great feeling in this performance.
In the genius stakes, the only serious competition for Mozart was Felix Mendelssohn, who wrote his miraculous Octet at the age of 16. For this final work of the evening, the Nash players were joined by violinists David Adams and Michael Gurevich and cellist Bjorg Lewis to create a rich and luscious body of sound. The mercurial passagework and all the intricacies of the voice-leading were handled with great finesse, yet there was always a natural exuberance underlying everything. And, in retrospect, moments of perfection in an imperfect world."
Rian Evans, The Guardian, November 2015 - Five Stars
[Edinburgh Festival 2015]
"The Nash Ensemble launched the EIF's morning concert series with panache, delivering brilliant performances of pieces which share similar back stories. Vaughan Williams's Piano Quintet in C minor, written in Williams's early thirties, was withdrawn in 1918 and only re-circulated 16 years ago.
While the luscious textures nod to Brahms and the rippling piano part to Ravel, the quintet reached into the heart of the work to find, and beautifully articulate, the composer's distinctive voice. The viola, cello and double bass provided a mellow bedrock for the sweeping violin and piano passages with the players relishing the imaginative writing and moody reflectiveness of this masterpiece.
Although Schubert was 27 when he wrote his Octet, it wasn't published until after his death. Its form owes much to Beethoven, but the complex rhythms, gorgeous melodies and masterful deployment of forces are entirely Schubert. The way the musicians, all fabulous soloists in their own right, knitted the music together was thrilling to hear and observe. They perfectly juggled the skipping rhythms in the opening movement, luxuriated in the charming adagio, gave a jaunty swagger to the theme and variations, enjoyed the playfulness of the minuet and trio and added a glitzy shimmer to the finale."
Susan Nickalls, The Scotsman, August 2015 - Five Stars
[Edinburgh Festival 2015]
"Is there a better-equipped, more polished, stylish, or characterful chamber music group than the Nash Ensemble anywhere on the planet? To judge from the near-immaculate account of Schubert's Octet with which they concluded their Festival concert on Saturday, launching the Queen's Hall morning concerts, I doubt it. Yet for all the pristine playing of the individual musicians, every one of them a name player in his or her own right, and for all the collective sparkle, wit, tenderness, drama and playfulness that informed their multiple exchanges throughout the pages of this great multi-movement masterpiece, the secret that ignited and unified their Octet performance on Saturday was their command of momentum.
It's a masterwork, yes, but it's a very long piece, takes up a lot of space and, with all those movements, it can seem to drag: I've heard one performance that almost ran aground. There was not a trace of drag, or of time stretching out in the Nash performance: it just kept moving forward all the time, fluidly, from one lyrical delight to the next, without force or hustle.
As good as that was, the real thrill in this Nash concert was the performance of Vaughan Williams's Piano Quintet, which I've not heard before and which came as a revelation. It's a young man's work, from 1903, withdrawn by VW in 1918 and allowed out to play only in 1999. It's described as Brahmsian. It's not really, but it is a Romantic cracker in which VW capitalised on his use of the solo double bass by generating rich, dark brown textures. Fabulous."
Michael Tumelty, Herald Scotland, August 2015 - Five Stars
[Nash Ensemble 50th anniversary]
"The Nash Ensemble closed its 50th anniversary season at the Wigmore Hall last week with a characteristic flourish: an all-contemporary evening comprising works by Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Simon Holt and Julian Anderson with world premieres from Richard Causton and Peter Maxwell Davies.
A few days earlier, I heard a (nearly all-) Spanish programme marking the 100th anniversary of the original chamber version of Falla's ballet El Amor Brujo - the climax of an exhilarating evening that began with Mason Jones's wind quintet arrangement of Le Tombeau de Couperin. It contined with Bernarda Fink's beguilingly idiomatic account of Falla's Seven Spanish Folksongs, Act One of his The Magistrate and the Miller's Wife (in its pre-Three-Cornered-Hat scoring) and a guest appearance by the Flamenco virtuoso Juan Martín in four of his own works. He drew in the audience with the intimacy of his playing, as well as dazzling us with his bravura. This originality and boldness of programming has kept Amelia Freedman's unique ensemble at the heart of British music-making, and an essential component of Wigmore Hall's continuos "festival" fare."
The Sunday Times, March 2015
[Nash Ensemble "Nash Inventions", 18th March 2015, Wigmore Hall - 50th anniversary season]
Richard Causton: Piano Quintet (WP)
Elliott Carter: Poems of Louis Zukofsky
Peter Maxwell Davies: String Quintet (WP)
Simon Holt: Shadow Realm
Harrison Birtwistle: 9 Settings of Lorine Niedecker
Julian Anderson: Poetry Nearing Silence "As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, the Nash Ensemble, still administered by its founder, the indefatigable Amelia Freedman, last night presented a conspectus of largely British contemporary music. The programme included two world premieres, Richard Causton's Piano Quintet and Peter Maxwell Davies's String Quintet… Nash Ensemble's members were superlative throughout"
London Evening Standard, March 2015 "The gradual rise in the pension age is going to make 50 look anything but old. Perhaps that is why the Nash Ensemble still seems so youthful. As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations this season it has devised a series of concerts featuring new music commissioned through its lifetime, which culminated in a grand concert of "Nash Inventions". Amelia Freedman, the Nash Ensemble's founder, has been midwife to a vast brood of fledgling works… The highlight of the evening… was the premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies's String Quintet… This is an important addition to Maxwell Davies's chamber music output, a late work of stature and resonance… The second half was completed by two instrumental works. Simon Holt's Shadow Realm (1983) conjures haunted sounds in striking colours. Julian Anderson's beguiling Poetry Nearing Silence (1997) comprises eight small musical sketches that are imaginatively fresh and pictorial. Various permutations of the Nash Ensemble's musicians were on display, all of them equally expert."
Financial Times, March 2015 "In the year of its 50th anniversary, the Nash Ensemble is working as hard as ever to expand the chamber music repertoire. This concert was nominally a celebration, but was full of the highly serious stuff the group does best."
The Guardian, March 2015 "If proof were needed that age has not withered the pioneering zeal of Amelia Freedman's Nash Ensemble, nor the years condemned its past successes, this concert supplied it in bucketfulls. Part of the ensemble's 50th anniversary season, it comprised the premieres of two big new quintets and reprises of four otherpieces commissioned by Freedman over the decades… Claire Booth's radiant soprano and impeccable avant-garde musicianship was displayed to good effect with two separate partners: the sparky clarinettist Richard Hosford in Elliott Carter's elliptical but mesmerising Poems of Louis Zukofsky and the admirable cellist Adrian Brendel in Harrison Birtwistle's even sparser Nine Settings of Lorine Niedecker."
The Guardian, March 2015
[4th December 2014, Wigmore Hall]
"It's hard to think of another British ensemble that has worked so hard or generated so much new music as the Nash Ensemble. Its 'serial commissioner' director Amelia Freedman and its successive musicians have barely drawn breath in the last half-century, so this anniversary season at the Wigmore Hall offers an opportunity to revisit some of their 193 commissions and place them in fresh contexts. In a pre-concert interview, Mark-Anthony Turnage paid warm tribute to Freedman for giving him the chance to explore string writing through chamber commissions which, in turn, helped develop his orchestral confidence. He pointed out that for a period in the last 30 years much new music written for strings has been ungrateful and unidiomatic - in effect wind writing to be played on stringed instruments. The Nash has played a key role in the recent renaissance for string works in old forms: 'Composers are often too scared to write for string quartet - it's so intimidating, so they write a string sextet instead!' he joked. And this concert boasted two, commissioned by the Nash in 2007 and 2009 by Turnage and Peter Maxwell Davies respectively.
Yet the richly-woven Brahmsian model which so inspired Tchaikovsky and Dvořák is not in evidence in either of the works. Both Turnage and Maxwell Davies have treated the six instruments independently, rather than as sections, with no driving engine of inner-parts, thus creating airy, exposed textures and subtle timbral contrasts. Turnage's Returning, written for his parents' own 50th wedding anniversary, is all about continuities and homecoming. Opening 'as if frozen' with fragile, keening tones over stuttering pizzicato, a melody grows from a single note and begins to clothe itself with twining harmonies, the cello shadowing violins rather than underpinning the harmony. In an intense, dynamic middle section, strokes slice antiphonally across the group, until it begins to dissolve, and the high, sweet tune of its opening returns, ending with a lone veiled viola. I would never think of Turnage in the same breath as Maxwell Davies, and yet both these sextets seemed to belong, in their own inimitable ways, to a long tradition of British pastoralism whose melancholy resonances persist into our time.
Maxwell Davies's musical landscapes particularly reflect his rugged Orcadian home, and The Last Island (2009) is a portrait of a rocky outcrop off Sanday. It offers a dizzying labyrinth of fiendish polyrhythms, enacting the elemental conflicts that menace the island. We seem to hear the groans of ship-wrecked sailors in its opening, a strange suspension of wails, harmonics and glissandi, which coalesce into broad, hymn-like music, disturbed by the fluttering of wings. The sextet, wonderfully performed by the Nash under Martyn Brabbin's precise direction, ends with fragments of plainsong and the soughing of the wind." Classical Music, December 2014
[BBC Lunchtimes at LSO/St Lukes]
"The Nash Ensemble opened with Borodin's D minor String Sextet. Melodies were beautifully sculpted and there was abundant energy, especially from the lower strings, with moments of exquisite delicacy in the Andante second movement. Sadly, the last movements are lost. Stravinsky's Three Pieces for String Quartet followed, in striking performances. Pizzicatos twanged violently, ponticellos rasped, violist Lawrence Power wound down to an all but inaudible sul tasto at the end, and second violinist David Adams performed his strange scalic interventions in the first piece splendidly.
Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence sextet ended this lunchtime concert. With two violas and two cellos working away energetically below, this is a work that can sometimes sound a little thin on top. Not here: leader Stephanie Gonley and David Adams have plenty of heft of their own, and the six players called up a storm in the first movement, with tonal size and depth that could put a few string orchestras to shame. There was wonderful playing from Gonley and cellist Rebecca Gilliver in the great melody and duet of the second movement. The finale was a great rustic dance with a terrific galloping ending." The Strad, January 2015
[Nash Ensemble 50th anniversary]
"Britain's most durable chamber group celebrates its 50th birthday - an astonishing achievement for its founding director Amelia Freedman - with a Wigmore Hall series resurrecting some of the classic concerts presented over the past half-century. Music ranges from Mozart and Mahler to Tchaikovsky, De Falla and works by such contemporary giants as Elliott Carter and Harrison Birtwistle." The Sunday Times, July 2014
[Cheltenham Festival, 4 July 2014]
"…John Woolrich's Pluck from the Air, a rhythmically vivid 10-minute movement for piano quintet, unveiled at a Pittville Pump Room morning recital by the Nash Ensemble between passionate accounts of Haydn's "Sunrise" String Quartet (Op.76 No.4) and Schubert's Trout Quintet" The Sunday Times, July 2014
[Wigmore Hall, 26 March 2014]
"…the Nash Ensemble's talent is to give equal voice to chamber music in any variety of instrumental combinations." The Observer, March 2014
[Bridge CD for Hyperion CDA68003]
awarded 5 stars: "The Cello Sonata that Frank Bridge completed in 1917 was the first in the magnificent series of works that form the core of his still underrated achievement, and the bridge between the Edwardian good manners of his early style, exemplified in this Nash Ensemble collection by the Phantasy Piano Quartet of 1910 and four string-quartet arrangements of British and Irish folk tunes, and the modernist-tinged unease of his greatest music. The sonata receives a wonderfully searching performance from Paul Watkins and Ian Brown, complemented by Marianne Thorsen's account, again with Brown, of the Violin Sonata of 1932. By then, Bridge's mature style was fully formed, with its conciseness and thematic economy; the earlier lyricism is there, but as just one part of an expressive web. Thorsen and Brown catch those moodswings perfectly." The Guardian, September 2013