Pelléas Ensemble and Friend, Concerts in the West

THE  original Pelléas Ensemble programme had to be amended at fairly short notice owing to the harpist, Oliver Wass, being indisposed with a broken thumb.

The challenge was to find fellow musicians who were free for a three-day tour for Concerts in the West and who were able to put together a programme of music that was different from the advertised one. In the world of chamber music, players are not short of friends, so Henry Roberts (flute) and Luba Tunnicliffe (viola) of the Pelléas Ensemble enlisted the help of Eloisa-Fleur Thom (violin) and Max Ruisi (cello) to play an enticing set of works by Mozart, Beethoven and Roussel.

The Great Hall at Brympton House was the first venue for this reorganised programme with Mozart’s two-movement Flute Quartet in C major leading the way. With its lilting Allegro and Theme and Variations, this quartet, the last of the four that Mozart wrote for his flautist friend Ferdinand De Jean, probably in 1781-1782, proved to be an appropriate opener for all four concerts. The players immediately relaxed the audience with their finely phrased playing and nuanced dynamics, and anyone who was disappointed not to hear the sound of the promised harp, soon found themselves absorbed in the revised programme and by the quartet’s engaging technique, musicianship and presentation.

If the heat of early August had lulled any listener into an expectation of an evening of ‘easy listening’, then Beethoven’s powerful C minor String Trio Opus 9 was to shatter that. The trio was written just 16 years after Mozart’s flute quartet, but they are a world apart in sheer drama and use of melody and harmony. The wilder passions of the opening movement, Scherzo and Finale were well handled by the energy and physical commitment of Eloisa-Fleur Thom, Luba Tunnicliffe and Max Ruisi. Using their impressive dynamic range with skill, the players challenged themselves and each other with the confidence of three firm friends. The sharp contrasts of rhythm and Beethoven’s harmonic confrontations in the three quicker movements were met with full commitment and success. By contrast the Adagio in C major brought an atmosphere of peace and resignation in the movement’s outer sections.

The Albert Roussel Flute Trio of 1929 gave the audience an all too rare exposure to the music of this early 20th century French composer. It took Roussel some years to find his own distinctive style as he temporarily flirted with the influences of the late romantics, Debussy, Ravel and Parisian jazz. Essentially his own voice has the elements of neo-classicism, functional tonality with unrelated keys set against one another, a strong rhythmic presence and contrapuntal textures. The contrasting movements featured splendid musical conversations between pairs of instruments and Henry Roberts, Luba Tunnicliffe and Max Ruisi very adequately conveyed the grace of the opening movement, the calmness of the middle and the wit of the finale. Altogether a splendid choice.

For the last work, Pelléas Ensemble and Friends returned to Mozart and his D major Flute Quartet. Here the finesse of Henry Robert’s playing became truly palpable and in that he was brilliantly matched by each of his fellow players.

It is hoped that Oliver Wass will return with the Pelléas Ensemble in 2020 season.

Submitted by AM

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