Thursday 3 October 2013

Endymion at Temple Music

Temple Church, London - The Round Church
Temple Music continued their celebrations of Wagner's centenary with a concert by the chamber music ensemble Endymion in the Temple Church on 2 October 2013 the centrepiece of which was a performance of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll in its original version for 12 instruments. The programme also included Richard Strauss's Sextet from Capriccio, Franz Hasenöhrl's chamber arrangement of Strauss's Til Eulenspiegel, and Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings in its original version from his string quartet.

Strauss's Sextet is written for six string players (2 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos), it forms the prelude to the opera Capriccio, but in a delightful sleight of hand it is also the music written by the composer Flamand which is being played to the Countess as the opera opens. The piece received a fine grained and passionate performance from Endymion led by Simon Blendis's sweet toned violin. The group's finely focussed tone was set off by the generous acoustics; we sat in the Temple Church's nave whilst the players performed in the round church. The individual players showed their metal in the cadenza like moments that Strauss gives them, and brought the piece to the heights of civilised passion.

They followed this with another Strauss work, Franz Hasenöhrl's arrangement Till Eulenspiegel - Einmal Anders (Till Eulenspiegel - Again another way). It seems outrageous to arrange a large-scale orchestral score by a master orchestrator like Strauss, but that is what Hasenöhrl has done. A composer and professor of Musicology in Vienna, Hasenöhrl created his chamber arrangement for violin, double bass, horn, bassoon and clarinet as the result of a challenge. The resulting piece works brilliantly and in the hands of the five players from Endymion (Simon Blendis, Anita Langridge, Stephen Stirling, Sarah Burnett and Antony Pay) was a complete delight. The instrumental combination might be slightly quirky, but it worked well and exerted constant fascination and highlighted the more folk-inspired elements of Strauss's score.. Each player displayed strong individuality but there was fine interaction between them. There were a couple of moments when the arrangement seemed less than convincing, but the players carried everything off. The big moments lacked the weight and sweep of a full orchestra, but the players brought something else to the work and carried us away in sheer delight.

Barber's Adagio for Strings was written as the slow movement of his string quartet in 1936. The composer then adapted it for string orchestra as the result of a commission from Toscanini for the Salzburg Festival and it is in this version that the work has become known. Returning to the original version, with just four performers means that we forego the richly upholstered sound of massed strings and Barber's highly romantic writing gains both in transparency and in toughness. From the first notes, the players from Endymion (Simon Blendis, Clara Biss, Asdis Valdimarsdottir and Jane Salmon) conjured magical tones, with sweet, fine grained tone given a nice aura by the acoustic. There were moments that were quite stark, and the whole performance was full of concentrated intensity. With beautiful control their turning of the screw in intensity was even and gradual. A very fine performance indeed.

Richard Wagner wrote the Siegfried Idyll was a Christmas present for his wife Cosima in celebration of their recent marriage and the birth of their son Siegfried. It was played by 12 players in their house. Though Wagner released an orchestral version of the work, the chamber one gives the music greater intensity and transparency. It is fascinating to hear the fragments of music from The Ring re-worked on such a small scale. The opening section, for strings only, gained a very intimate feel when played by just four players and when the wind joined they had slightly more prominence. The lack of a huge string section re-balancing the work to great effect. The performance was nicely flowing, neither ponderous nor grand with some lovely solos from individual players and a very fine account of Siegfried's horn call. The great climaxes were superb, but what was notable was the subtle interplay between the players.

The Temple Music celebrations of the Britten, Wagner and Verdi centenaries continue with performances from the Sacconi Quartet and from Raphael Wallfisch (cello) and John York (piano). Readers of this blog have the opportunity win tickets for Roderick Williams and Julius Drake's recital on November 14.

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