The concert began with Bruch’s G minor piano quintet, a piece written for amateur players, but one which readily fulfils Bruch’s desire to write music which is ‘pleasing and easily understood’. The energetic Scherzo particularly stood out, offset by its dreamy and lyrical Trio.
This was wise programming as it was followed by the Züstande for piano quartet by the young British composer, Charlotte Bray, something far harder to digest. This was inspired by a visit to Greenland and depicts the different aspects of that icy environment. Icy tremolos and loud cracks in the strings dominated the short first movement. More lyrical lines, running from the bottom of the cello’s range to the highest notes of the violin challenged the players in the second movement but failed, for me, to describe an iceberg. A lively final movement with fractured rhythms followed, concluding with long grey chords. The applause which followed acknowledged the success of the Ensemble in their championing of such a complex work.
In the second half we returned to the late-nineteenth century for a glowing performance of Dvorak’s A major piano quintet. His combination of wonderful tunes – the first recalling ‘Shall we gather at the river’ long before Dvorak had been to America – folk rhythms and classical form never fails to delight. The highlights were the Andante, in which the returns of the first theme seemed new minted, and the Scherzo, which combines Schubertian elegance with the vigour of a Czech furiant. The Schubert Ensemble gave a wonderfully subtle and engaging performance which swept the audience along – a memorable ending to a challenging concert.