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Seen and Heard Recital Review


Poulenc, Koechlin, Bridge, Thuille, Brahms: Conchord – Maya Koch (Violin), Douglas Paterson (Viola), Bridget MacRae (Cello), Daniel Pailthorpe (Flute), Emily Pailthorpe (Oboe), Barnaby Robson (Clarinet), Andrea de Flammineis (Bassoon), Nicholas Korth (Horn) and Julian Milford (Piano), Wigmore Hall, 22nd January 2005 (H-T W)

How well I remember my first encounter with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe just months after it had been founded: it was not only a breath of fresh air, it was sheer heaven. Those young European musicians, who for age reasons had to leave the European Youth Orchestra, wanted to stick together and carry on making music for music’s sake. Such intuitive drive, style and musical understanding, such a harmony, sparkle and common interest, and such honest vitality was something I had never come across before. I had realised more than ever that sooner or later every chamber group, every orchestra, becomes institutionalised, while the original spirit slowly disappears into routine. The exception – like the European Chamber Orchestra of today – is the rule. On the other hand, this country produces so many extremely talented young musicians of great individuality that there will always be exciting and risk taking new ensembles capable of injecting the spirit of music into our soul.


Without any doubt, Conchord belongs to this rare breed of musicians. This flexible group, founded in 2002 by the American oboist Emily Pailthorpe and her English husband, who plays the flute and also surprises with his brilliant arrangements, not only understands the art of programming, but also the art of how to deliver one and how to make an audience listen.

They started their concert with an exuberant interpretation of Poulenc’s well know Sextet (1939) for piano, flute, oboe, horn, bassoon and clarinet, a work full of wit, sarcasms, mockery, character and zeitgeist. Each instrument speaks with incredible fantasy and sometimes there are underlying hints at Weill’s “Three Penny Opera.” Only in the last couple of minutes does Poulenc get deadly serious – a foreboding of the times to come?

Deux Nocturnes op.32 (1920) for piano, horn (mainly muted) and flute by Charles Koechlin, two short, delicate and to me totally unknown, impressionistic miniatures followed. The first, Venise, evoked Venetian waters, while the second, Dans la forêt, created - in an even more mysterious way - the hushed atmosphere of a forest. One of the greatest chamber works by an English composer, the rarely heard Phantasie Trio in C Minor (1907) for piano trio by Frank Bridge brought the first half of Conchord´s concert to a ravishing end. This early work, written for the second `Cobett Musical Competition´ in June 1907 (also winning the first prize,) is deeply routed in the late German romantic tradition. It is in one movement, but clearly divided into a stormy exposition, which returns at the end, a deeply moving andante and an effective scherzo. Why Frank Bridge is so underrated in his native country is something I have never understood. The young German-Japanese violinist Maya Koch, demonstrating beautiful intonation, the equally involved cello player Bridget MacRae, and Julian Milford, not only a full blooded pianist, but also one of the best accompanists I have ever experienced, made the work an unforgettable event.

After the interval, Conchord presented a rare UK premiere: the Trio in Eb for Violin, Viola and Piano (1885) by the Austrian-German composer of French ancestry Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907). This trio, for the unusual combination of violin and Viola (instead of Cello), came to light as late as 1998, when it was first published. Nowadays, Thuille is hardly performed - even in Germany - despite a considerable output of chamber music, as well as three operas. At only 17, he concluded his musical studies with Joseph Rheinberger at the Royal School of Music in Munich. Five years later, he began teaching at the same institution, where Ernest Bloch was amongst his pupils. Originally strongly influenced by the German romantic school of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms – his trio has some of the innocent lightness of the early Mendelssohn – he became a close friend of Richard Strauss and fell very much under his spell. His later works are dominated by the influence of Wagner and the neo romantic Munich School. When he died in 1907, at the age of 46, musical taste began to change, and with the end of world war one, neo romanticism was no longer popular. As an epigone of the past and his Munich surroundings he became easily forgotten. He also wrote an extensive theory of harmony, published in 1907, which has been reprinted many times. The trio is charming and as Douglas Paterson (viola) pointed out, it is the only work for this instrumental combination he knows of. He put the question to the audience, why this well crafted and amiable composition has only recently been discovered and hardly been performed. The answer is easy: from an artistic point of view it is not that great a work; only the piano part is developed, while the two strings play mainly in unison.

Conchord finished the evening in style: the Hungarian Dances No.6 and No.1 by Johannes Brahms in a superlative arrangement for all nine Conchord players by Daniel Pailthorpe. Sadly, the art of arranging, very much in demand in the 18th and 19th centuries, has been lost. Then, it was common practice to arrange famous compositions for any kind of ensemble, due partly to virtually non-existent copyright. Even the great composers of those centuries wrote arrangements of their own works either to please the public or to prevent others from doing so. Daniel Pailthorpe is a worthy successor of this tradition, as he has proven many times before. Conchord played those two arrangements with temperament and flair – and the close to capacity audience went wild. As an encore we got another of those famous Hungarian Dances.

At this concert, Conchord launched its two newest CDs, one dedicated to Poulenc including the Sextet (ASV DCA 1170), the other to Ludwig Thuille, which next to the Trio also includes his much more powerful Sextet in B flat major for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn and piano (quartz QTZ 2014). A memorable evening, of real musicianship.


Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)