Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Late genius and two sextets: Strauss, Haydn and Brahms at Conway Hall

Oculi Ensemble
R.Strauss, Haydn, Brahms; Oculi Ensemble; Conway Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 November 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Two late masterpieces and two sextets from this new ensemble

On Sunday 11 November 2018, I was giving the pre-concert talk at Conway Hall, in advance of the programme by the Oculi Ensemble, Haydn's Quartet in F Op. 77 No.2, Richard Strauss' String Sextet from Capriccio, and Johannes Brahms String Sextet in G op. 36 No.2, a programme which combined not only two sextets, but two composers' late works. The planned inclusion of Richard Strauss' early Quartetsatz in E flat did not happen as the music was not available in time, but the ensemble is planning to record Strauss' string chamber music including this and a number of early rarities.

The Oculi Ensemble is a newish group, a flexible ensemble based around the well established Badke Quartet. On Sunday we heard Charlotte Scott and Emma Parker violins, Jon Thorne and Simon Tandree violas and Nathaniel Boyd and Pau Codina cellos.

We started with the Richard Strauss sextet which comes from Capriccio, his last opera premiered when the composer was 78.
Written as the work's 'overture' it represents Strauss evoking 18th century music but is is fully in his own style. We started elegant and intimate, after all this was a performance in a small concert hall not and opera house, with Strauss' lovely lines rendered in a conversational mannder. But drama was not absent, with some fine climaxes and an impulsive, vibrant feel to the later sections, though even here we had intimacy and conversation too.

Then came another late work, this time one of Haydn's final quartets, the Quartet in F Op. 77 No.2. The opening movement was engaging and characterful, but this was very much the first violin's movement, though the other instruments did get their moments. The perky minuet was full wit, particularly in the dynamic contrasts, and there was a sense of real enjoyment in the quartet's playing. I loved the tantalising passage after the lyrical trio with Haydn teasing us about whether there will be a repeat or not. The slow movement was a simple little melody over a moving bass, which Haydn varied enormously, sometimes adding a counter-melody and once, moving the melody onto the cello. The finale was full of wit and brio, and hints of popular rhythms in the music.

After the interval we had Brahms' String Sextet in G, his second sextet. The opening simply floated in, full of intriguing textures. This developed into a wonderfully urgent performance, with a feeling of constant movement and the sense of the various motifs being passed from player to player. The scherzo had a light, engaging texture which alternated with more robust vigorous moments. The slow movment started in haunting manner with the three upper instruments weaving together, and we constantly moved between the haunting and the more vigorous, getting quite intense yet elegiac too. The delicately busy final started lightly engaging but this huge movement developed real drama and energy.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Iconic but flawed: La Bayadère the Royal Ballet  - ballet review
  • Reformation Remainers: Musicians, zealots and loyalists in Tudor England at BREMF - concert review
  • In Remembrance - choral discs commemorating the centenary of the Armistice  - CD review
  • Spirito: Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka in bel canto scenes (★★★★½) - CD review
  • A Mahler Piano Series: Echoes of the East (★★★½) - concert review
  • All he wanted to do was make people cry  - article
  • Intimate grandeur: Fulham Opera in Verdi's five-act version of Don Carlo  (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Telling tales - Cheryl Frances Hoad's Magic Lantern Tales from Champs Hill (★★★★) - CD review
  • Lincolnshire Remembers: Britten's War Requiem from Lincoln Cathedral - concert review
  • Enjoying the musicianship: Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Brushing away cynicism: Philippe Jordan & the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven - (★★★★) CD review
  • The Unknown Traveller: The Fieri Consort in Italian madrigals from Musica Transalpina and Ben Rowarth (★★★★) - CD review
  • Disturbing intensity: Lucia di Lammermoor at ENO (★★★★) - opera review
  • Voices of Aotearoa - Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir at Cadogan Hall (★★★½) - concert review
  •  Home

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