Concert Review

Endymion Ensemble (Composer Choice Series) with Eileen Hulse (soprano)
Purcell Room, South Bank, London. 2 February 2000.

Jonathan Dove's choice of music included pieces by his two admitted heroes - Mozart and (neo-classical period) Stravinsky. Dove cited the grace, beauty and restraint of both as guiding influences. Although he isolated the operas of Mozart in particular, the concert opened with one of Mozart's great pieces for wind ensemble, the Serenade in E flat, K375. An extended opener, the ensemble was perhaps too aware of its 20-25 minute duration - tempi seemed rushed (the first movement being definitely 'Allegro', but with little trace of the 'Maestoso' qualifier) and moments of mystery and expectancy were glossed over throughout.

Stravinsky's brief 'Pastorale' (in the version for soprano and wind quartet) proved an effective link to the present, members of the Endymion providing a piquant, spiky accompaniment to Eileen Hulse's floating, wordless soprano. Dove's own seven-movement 'Figures in the Garden' for wind octet was intended for performance in the gardens of Glyndeboune, prior to a performance of 'Figaro'. Snatches of Mozart surface tantalisingly in a musical language which calls variously upon minimalism, Stravinsky and jazz. Occasionally the titles promise more than they deliver - 'Susanna in the rain' is more evocative as a linguistic statement than the over-repetitive descending scales we heard, for example.

Dove chose the composers of the second half because, he claimed, they share both a sense of humour and a feeling of 'unembarrassed melody'. Certainly the Poulenc Sextet's bitter-sweet idiom was superbly caught by the ensemble, and Hulse (making her second appearance) was marvellously fluent in Bernstein's 'La bonne cuisine', the tongue-twister of the first recipe brilliantly done. It has to be said, though, there was a palpable feeling of arrival at Stravinsky's Octet (played here in the 1952 version). The players, under conductor Quentin Poole, articulated the spiky Sinfonia cleanly and responded superbly to the challenges of the Variations (a special mention for the nimble bassoons here) and the Finale. It was a fitting end to a carefully planned concert.

Colin Clarke

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