Mozartfest, The Nash Ensemble at the Assembly Rooms Bath

WHETHER you subscribe to Charles Spurgeon’s version “Begin as you mean to go on”, or the New Year resolution “Start as you mean to continue”, the idea is the same – that something has been started on a high note.

And that certainly can be applied to the opening concert of this the 29th Bath Mozartfest. The Nash Ensem­ble, which Mozartfest artistic director Amelia  Freedman co-founded in 1964 while a student at the Royal Academy of Music, was in sparkling form starting nine days of wonderfully contrasting music.

There was quite a contrast in the three works the Nash chose for this concert. Mozart’s String Quintet in C minor requires four players, two violins, two violas and cello, who can second guess each other without ever giving the impression that they are waiting or hesitating for the moment for them to join in the action. Led with an almost imperceptible sense of power by Stephanie Gonley, the Quintet picked their way  through any musical traps set by Mozart.

Anyone who wants to place Felix Mendelssohn amongst the second rank of classical composers should try dissecting his String Quartet in A minor. In such expert hands as these, the changes of mood as one pair goes on the attack and the other defends until a glorious coming together brings a joyous Presto Adagio non lento-Adagio come I, appears easy. The concentration and skill required to achieve this easy sound is immense, and it says much of the quality of the Quartet’s musicianship that they made it look and sound so simple.

Those once-popular compilation discs advertised as someone’s greatest hits would, in the case of Franz Schubert, have included his Piano Quintet in A major (Trout). Many people who have no interest in classical music will recognise this work, especially the Theme & Variations Andantino, and, if they were  followers of that splendid Stephanie Cole/ Graham Crowden TV series Waiting for God,  Finale Allegro Gusto, which the Nash Ensemble played as introductory and finale music to the show.

When a piece is as well known as this one it can easily become mechanical in the playing, with no sense of the vibrant sense of fun that made it so popular. There was never any sense of staleness in this presentation, but very much a feeling that the players valued the music and were enjoying every note they played. It was an enjoyment that was passed on to the audience in the Trout, as they had throughout the evening.

At the top of their form, the Nash Ensemble kicked off the 2019 fest with a gusto to fit the ending of the Schubert work. The problem for the wonderful array of concerts scheduled between now and the final performance by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at The Forum on Saturday November 16th is to match – or even top – this first class opening concert.


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