Iffley Music Society

Festival 2014

The Schubert Ensemble of London with William Howard (piano)

March 14th - 16th 2014

schubert ensemble

The 2014 Iffley Music Festival provided three concerts and a demonstration seminar by the Schubert Ensemble of London with pianist William Howard. On the first night violinist Simon Blendis and 'cellist Jane Salmon joined William Howard in enthralling a large and enthusiastic audience with three string trios. A  charming Allegretto by Beethoven (WoO 39) preceded the more meaty Dumky of Dvořák and Schubert’s trio number 2. 

The trio was joined next day by Douglas Paterson (viola) for a seminar in the Jacqueline du Pré Music Builiding in St Hilda’s College. The discussion centred round two quartets by Fauré and Brahms to be played the following evening. The players discussed the different dynamics of the two composers’ styles and the implications for musicians attempting to match the intentions of the score. A demonstration of the effect of playing the Fauré quartet as if it were by Brahms, and vice versa, made the point both effectively and amusingly. The issues include technical matters of bowing and sound balance but some are also cultural; the era of the Franco-Prussian War was not a time for convergence of German and French musical taste and convention.

The evening concert of the two Quartets No 1 was prefaced by a performance of Huw Watkins’ piano quartet of 2012. Simon Blendis provided a lucid introduction to the work that had been commissioned for the Schubert Ensemble. Its statement and elaboration of a three-note motif was richly developed in tone and texture to create a significant and assimilable contribution to the corpus of modern British music. As to be expected from such formidable musicians the two quartets that followed were superbly presented, with a fine intensity of sound and emotion.

William Howard’s solo concert on a beautiful Spring Sunday afternoon offered a wide menu of music, starting with Janáček’s atmospheric “‬In the Mists” and including nine pieces from ‬Schumann’s Bunte Blätter, waltzes by Dvořák, and barcarolles by Fauré. After the interval, Iffley Music Society’s Artistic Director Brian Todd introduced composer David Matthews who explained the origins and elements of his “Four Portraits”. In the tradition of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, this comprises musical depictions of friends, one of whom is William Howard, who then presented a beautifully nuanced playing of the work. The final work of the programme, ‪Chopin’s Scherzo No.2 in B flat minor, was followed by a “scheduled encore” of David Matthews’ four-minute distillation of Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen”; charming, witty, and only mildly irreverent. A truly memorable Festival.

Jeremy Kelvin Smith

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