The Nash Ensemble of London
A Flute Sparkles in Mozart's Spirited, Rent-Paying Quartet
The program opened with Mozart's Quartet for Flute and Strings in D, K. 285, written for a wealthy amateur flutist. Mozart procrastinated and never completed the commission, writing to his father, "You know that I become quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument I cannot bear." But the lure of a rent check did spur him to write two quartets and two concertos, including the spirited, substantial and playful K. 285, in which the flute, here played with sparkle and clear tone by Philippa Davies, takes on the role of the first violinist.
The Nash Ensemble champions the British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, whose visceral music often hints at jazz influences. On Wednesday it played his dreamy, subtle "Three Farewells" for Flute, Clarinet, Harp and String Quartet (1990). In "Music to Hear", the second of the three Farewells (inspired by poems by Shakespeare, Auden and Brecht) a mournful viola melody dances over a hypnotic cello drone before both fade to a whispered pianissimo.
The harp, which has a small role in the Turnage work, takes center stage in the sensually colored Introduction and Allegro for Flute, Clarinet, Harp and String Quartet by Ravel, a fan of the instrument. The Nash gave a stellar performance, with Lucy Wakeford, the harpist, playing the rippling arpeggios and evocative solo with finesse.
Debussy, unlike Mozart, never professed a dislike for the flute. The lights onstage dimmed for his fleeting "Syrinx" for Solo Flute, in which Ms Davies evoked a pastorally meditative atmosphere.
Then it was on to a very different sound world with Mendelssohn’s youthful String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13, here given a fine reading that was bristling and passionate, lyrical and graceful. There was a lot of smiling onstage, and the Nash’s enthusiasm was contagious. "
Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times, 26 March 07