Music in the Round
“This is the first time we’ve played in Sheffield,” Simon Blendis, the lead violinist, said. What? A chamber music ensemble founded in 1993 hadn’t featured in any of the programmes of Music in the Round’s world class concerts and festivals going all the way back to the early 1980s? Time to put that right then.
The Schubert Ensemble began with an illustrated talk on Dohnányi’s second piano quintet, and Elgar’s only one. This was particularly useful in the case of the little known Dohnányi where the guidance through some of the thematic complexity assisted the listening experience. And of course their lively interpretation of this passionate music obviously helped.
Both quintets were written in the shadow of the First World War – the Dohnányi at the beginning, and the Elgar at the end of it; both begin with ominous, foreboding themes; both bring these back with a more optimistic resolution in the final movement, and, like most piano quintets, both use the power of the piano in this process.
Fortunately, William Howard was up to the task, with plenty of power but also delicacy when required. The string sound was forceful then elegant by turns, and, despite the peaks of emotional intensity, never lost its impressively tight control.
Unfortunately, this might be the ensemble’s first and last visit to Sheffield, as they also announced at the start of the concert that they will be finishing their work together next year.