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S & H Recital Review

Beethoven, Brahms, Dohnányi IMS Prussia Cove, Gábor Takács-Nagy and Christoph Ehrenfellner (violin), Louise Williams (viola), Rafael Rosenfeld and Maike Reisener (violoncello), Chen Halevi (clarinet), Dénes Várjon (piano), Wigmore Hall, 3rd October 2002 (H-TW)



The International Musicians Seminar, Prussia Cove, currently under the artistic direction of Steven Isserlis, may need a little introduction. Founded in 1972 by the legendary Hungarian violinist and conductor Sándor Végh, its bi-annual courses have achieved worldwide recognition as a centre of musical excellence. For three weeks each spring, many world-famous instrumentalists come to Prussia Cove to give master classes in a setting of unspoiled natural beauty on the Cornish coast. For three weeks in September the Open Chamber Music Seminar takes place. It is based on Sandor Vegh´s concept of a professor making music with his students, the aim being to explore the rich variety of creative combinations which chamber music offers. Nine public concerts, all with different programmes, are followed by a tour culminating in a performance at the Wigmore Hall.

This years concert opened with Beethoven´s relatively unfamiliar Clarinet Trio in B flat major, Op.11, an early work full of joy and wit and one ideally suited to lift the spirit and to release the tension of any audience after a long day at work. Almost immediately after the performance began one had been catapulted into a different world, where music making of the highest possible calibre was taking place and it proved captivating. Beethoven wrote this unconventionally scored Trio for piano, clarinet and cello for Josef Beer, the most prominent clarinettist of the day in Vienna. It is certainly a demanding piece, not only for the clarinettist, but for all three musicians; but it also contains an incredible amount of humour, specifically in the last movement with its variations on a popular operatic tune, the concluding number of the first act of Joseph Weigl´s L´Amor marinaro. The Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon, the outstanding clarinettist Chen Halevi from Israel and the temperamental Swiss cellist Rafael Rosenfeld gave a vibrant interpretation and showed the kind of musicianship that only happens when soloists of various backgrounds and nationalities come together to play chamber music - something which was clearly projected from this entirely unforgettable evening.

The Clarinet Quintet in B minor Op.115 by Johannes Brahms, which followed, also owes its existence to a specific clarinettist. On 11th September 1890 Brahms sent his publisher a piano arrangement of parts of his last string quartet together with the comment: "With this scrap of paper you can bid  farewell to my music - because it is altogether time to stop, and also be honest." But in March 1891 he met Richard Mühlfeld, the clarinettist of the court orchestra in Meiningen. Suddenly, his creativity returned resulting in his two last major chamber music compositions, the Clarinet Trio A minor Op.114 and the Clarinet Quintet B-minor Op.115. Despite being written at great speed the quintet belongs to his most intimate and personal works. It reflects many influences and also pays homage to Mozart´s famous clarinet quintet K.581. Its refined structure, enormous intensity and considerable length demands a high level of concentration from the musicians and the listener. Thanks to the Hungarian violinist Gábor Takács-Nagy, the leader of the famous Takács Quartet, acting as primus inter pares of this outstanding sting quintet with the German violinist Christoph Ehrenfellner, the indispensable British viola player Louise Williams, the German cellist Maike Reisener and, again, the passionate Israeli clarinettist Chen Halevi, there was never any doubt that the concentration of the performers would lapse for one moment. It has been some time since I have heard this work played with such deep understanding and affection.

The evening ended with the first major composition of a seventeen year old, the little known Piano Quintet in C minor Op.1 by Ernst von Dohnányi, composed in the winter of 1894-95. Hans Koessler, his teacher at the Budapest Music Academy, was so impressed with the individuality of this quintet that he mentioned it to Brahms and it was indeed Brahms who arranged for its first performance as part of a concert of the Vienna Tonkünstlerverein on 25th November 1895. The four movements are full of surprises, constantly changing ideas, breathtaking energy and an astonishing symphonic grandeur, including a delicate fugato in the Finale.

The kind of virtuoso chamber music playing experienced during this recital will always be rare and the audience, mainly young musicians themselves, went wild at its close.


Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt   



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