Thursday 9 March 2017

Sunday afternoon delights: I Musicanti at St John's Smith Square

Leon Bosch & I Musicanti at Kings Place, 1 May 2016
Leon Bosch & I Musicanti at Kings Place, 1 May 2016
Mozart, Paganini, Werner Bosch, Schubert; I Musicanti; St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Mar 5 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Elegant programming and relaxed, collegiate style from Leon Bosch's chamber ensemble

Once the word gets round, the Sunday at St John’s series at St John's Smith Square (SJSS), is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon: the restaurant downstairs is quieter than a gastropub; it is more civilised than going shopping; there is lots of free parking in the neighbourhood.

And I Musicanti, Leon Bosch’s flexible line-up of super-talented hand-picked performers, is perfect for the occasion. With their elegant programming and relaxed, collegiate style, they explore the well-loved masterpieces (their first SJSS afternoon concert included the Trout Quintet and the next one will feature Schubert's Octet and Mozart's Clarinet Quintet), as well as 'neglected work by great composers, great works by neglected composers and the rich creative output of our own time' – notably by South African composers brought to us via Bosch’s own compatriots and colleagues. 

On Sunday 5 March 2017 we were treated to Mozart's Quartet in D K285 for flute, violin, viola and cello, Paganini's Terzetto for violin, cello and guitar, Schubert's Quartet in G D96 for flute, viola, cello and guitar, and Werner Bosch's Quintet for flute, violin, viola, cello, and double bass..

The group will inevitably be mentioned in the same breath as the Nash Ensemble who have almost 50 years’ head start on I Musicanti. Double bassist Leon Bosch is quoted in Toby Deller’s brief programme note as saying that times are challenging for today’s musicians, and the determination to keep going requires special resilience and creativity. (See also Robert's interview with Leon on this blog). He and his friends have found a great formula but St John’s needs to provide more help: a bit of stage management being top of the list, and the audience needs to be treasured as concert goers not restaurant or bar clients.

Sunday’s programme started with Mozart’s D major flute quartet, written with the Mannheim virtuosi in mind and commissioned by an amateur flautist named De Jean / de Jong. We had a foretaste of the guitar music to come, with witty pizzicato playing from the violin, viola and cello.

Next we had Paganini’s 1833 Terzetto, composed when he was on the road in Scotland and Ireland. It has a seductive, Wandering Minstrel quality with echoes of Bellini and Mendelssohn, both of whom were inspired by their Scottish travels. In fact, Mendelssohn played the guitar part on the piano at the first, private performance of this piece. What was fascinating was how each instrument sounded like something else: the cello was mostly in a high viola register, the bowed strings were plucked and the guitar provided a beefy substitute for a double bass. It was clearly as much of a delight to play as it was to listen to (and watch).

After the interval we heard the world première of Leon’s compatriot Werner Bosch’s Quintet, and the only appearance of the double bass in this concert. This was a charming, lyrical piece and the placing of the flute in the middle of the ensemble made for a better balance, though it did rather feel as though the double bass had come in from the cold – which indeed it had.

We ended with a curiosity: a souped-up trio by the Bohemian Wenzel Matiegka who would probably remain forgotten if the teenage Schubert had not been asked to provide an additional part (for the cello – possibly written for Schubert’s own cellist father) and some original material for the second movement. It was a charming piece with a fun duet between the viola and guitar in the final movement, a quotation from Mozart’s The Magic Flute and an authentic-sounding gypsy dance.

All in all a lovely way of spending a couple of hours on a Sunday. Roll on the next one, which is on 28th May at 3pm.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford
I Musicanti
Craig Ogden – Guitar
Karen Jones – Flute
Tamás András – violin
Sarah-Jane Bradley – viola
Richard Harwood – cello
Elena Hal – double bass

WA Mozart (1756-91) – Quartet in D for flute, violin, viola and cello K285 (1777)
N Paganini (1782-1840) – Terzetto for violin, cello and guitar (1833)
Werner Bosch – Quintet for flute, violin, viola, cello and double bass (world première)
F Schubert (1797-1802) – Quartet in G for flute, viola, cello and guitar D96 (1814)

Elsewhere on this blog:

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