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Mozart, Poulenc, Frank Bridge, Beethoven : London Conchord Ensemble, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 14.3.2011  (RJ)

Mozart: Quintet for piano and winds in E flat, K452

Poulenc: Sonata for flute and piano

Frank Bridge: Divertimenti for Wind Quartet

Beethoven: Quintet for piano and winds in E flat, Op 16.

The London Conchord Ensemble is a group of youngish musicians who perform chamber music for various combinations of instruments. On this occasion five of its wind players took to the stage with pianist Julian Milford.

The flautist waited in the wings as his colleagues performed Mozart's attractive Quintet imbuing it with cheerfulness.and wit. The first movement brought to mind the antics of Papageno, and the Larghetto started off as a gloriously laid-back serenade ideal for a warm summer evening,but developed interesting chromatic harmonies at the end. There was a carefree atmosphere, too, in the Rondo with Julian Milford acquittng himself with the dominant piano part.

Then it was the turn of Daniel Pailthorpe with the Poulenc Sonata - a work which combines melancholy and playfulness. He tackled the bright melodies of the first movement with true verve before slowing down in anticipation of the slow movement. This, the Cantilena, had an endearing wistfulness - a feeling that vanished in the fast and furious finale. This featured brilliant flute passages and what sometimes felt like a race to the finish between flute and piano. To describe the performance as a tour de force does not convey adequately the impression he made.

Frank Bridge is better known for having been Benjamin Britten's mentor than for his compositions, yet his output is by and large of high quality and deserves to be heard more often. The Divertimenti, which started out as two duets for flute and oboe and was later extended to include clarinet and bassoon, is a lively work best regarded as a series of conversations between the instruments. In the first movement, Fanfare, there was an animated discussion. The Nocturne featured another excellent contribution from Mr Pailthorpe whose flute seemed to be offering a commentary on the pronouncements of Emily Pailthorpe's oboe. (As I suspect that the pair are either spouses or siblings, I am tempted to speculate as to whether their musical performance was replicating domestic life!) In the witty Scherzo Peter Sparks (clarinet) and Julie Price (bassoon) tossed melodic fragments at each other with great abandon,and seemed to dance together at times. The Bagatelle which concluded the work brought all four instrumentalists together for a fairly inconsequential discussion with plenty of virtuosic display.

Beethoven modelled his Quintet for piano and winds on Mozart's which had been written twelve years earlier. Now in his mid-twenties Beethoven was ambitious to make his mark as a composer, and one gets the impression that he was attempting not only to emulate but to surpass Mozart's. One has the nagging suspicion that he was trying a little too hard given the many showy passages, especially for the piano.- which Beethoven would have played in the early performances. Julian Milford certainly addressed the complexities of the piano part with confidence and intelligence, but I found hardly any in the audience who were prepared to admit that this quintet outshone Mozart's K452. Yet, I have to admit I was almost won over to the other side by Richard Bayliss's fine horn playing in the central section of the Andante Cantabile.


With their crisp, committed playing the London Conchord Ensemble proved to be a force to be reckoned with in the world of chamber music. Now its wind players are looking forward to wooing American concert-goers when they perform at the Library of Congress in Washington DC in a month's time.

Roger Jones



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