Nash Inventions review – serious chamber music and exuberant party pieces

Wigmore Hall, London
A lyrical but profound new string quintet by Peter Maxwell Davies was the centrepiece of the Nash Ensemble’s 50th anniversary celebration

In the year of its 50th anniversary, the Nash Ensemble is working as hard as ever to expand the chamber-music repertoire. This concert was nominally a celebration, but was full of the highly serious stuff the group does best.

Best of all, it introduced a major new work. Peter Maxwell Davies’s String Quintet is in a traditional four-movement structure, using the line-up of two violins, viola and two cellos familiar from Schubert’s much-loved C major Quintet. At a time when it almost feels bold for a composer to choose to work within the expected parameters of two centuries ago, Maxwell Davies has come to sound completely at ease with them, not least in his 10 Naxos string quartets, written between 2001 and 2007. At the heart of this new piece is a profound, almost Beethovenian slow movement touched, like the coursing Reel that proceeds it, with the rhythms and shapes of Orkney folk music, but weaving them into something so intensely lyrical, so idiomatically written for full-toned strings, that the instruments throb together.

The other new piece was Richard Causton’s Piano Quintet. The set-up, with the cellist sat by the pianist and the other string players huddled together, reflected a musical division: the upper strings moved swiftly and spikily in parallel, while the cello and piano, on a slower timescale, became more and more thunderous. A sparse second section, ending with a high piano tintinnabulation, meant the whole thing evoked fullness and emptiness, presence and absence.

The older works were all Nash commissions too. Claire Booth was the fluid, gauzy-toned soloist in two lean song cycles: Elliott Carter’s Poems of Louis Zukofsky, with Richard Horsford on clarinet, and Harrison Birtwistle’s Nine Settings of Lorine Niedecker, with cellist Adrian Brendel. Simon Holt’s 1983 Shadow Realm brought some lively three-way musical conversation between clarinet, harp and cello, but the greatest exuberance came with the vivid little vignettes of Julian Anderson’s Poetry Nearing Silence, the nearest we got to a party piece.

Contributor

Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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