Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Conservatory Concert Hall
Monday (11 March 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 March 2013 with the title "A breathtaking river journey".

La Bande de La Loingtaine is the five-member resident ensemble of La Loingtaine, a converted farmhouse and arts centre on the Loing River southeast of Paris. Students and faculty of our Conservatory have performed in its barn-turned-concert venue, and this reciprocal concert was a veritable feast of rarely performed chamber music.

If Mozart’s Clarinet Quartet in B flat major (K.378) sounded familiar, that is because it is an arrangement of a popular violin sonata. Clarinettist Matthew Hunt, who did the introductions, shaped its opening theme with much grace and clarity. Much of its melodic interest was shared with violinist Aki Sauliere, and their partners violist David Quiggle and cellist Matthew Hunt were equal to the task in this richer, more textured version of the work.

The slow movement was long-breathed, with a truly lovely passage for clarinet accompanied by pizzicato strings. The finale’s Rondo was playful, bounding in energy, and displaying a joie de vivre that was infectious.

Pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips then registered with dissonant chords Frenchman Philippe Hersant’s Six Bagatelles for the distinctive combo of clarinet, viola and piano. These were atmospheric mood pictures, tonal in outlook and shaded in variegated colours. Among them were a brooding lament, scherzo-like ditty, the blues, a Klezmer-influenced dance and finally a dreamy nocturne to close, all vividly performed.

The contrasts then shifted to the late-Romanticism of Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Trio in D minor. This unusual original version replaced the usual violin with the clarinet, but it sounded just as good. Raphael Bell’s cello was afforded the honours of playing the first theme, its mellow and rarefied tone soon unlocked the work’s extraordinary beauty.

Fauré’s methods do not always reveal themselves immediately, instead his unusual harmonies and unsuspecting chord progressions gently lead the listener through a winding path towards a luminescent musical nirvana. This performance had that quality, and the slow central movement’s unison passages for clarinet and cello were a perfect balm.

The most substantial work of the evening was Brahms’s Second Piano Quartet in A major (Op.26), all 50 minutes of it. The performance passed far more quickly than the timing suggested. The string trio functioned as a separate unit from the pianist, but together they gelled with an overall sense of unity and urgency that translated to a totally absorbing experience.

The resolute and beefy sound so characteristic of Brahms was sustained through its four movements, save the second movement’s oasis of calm and respite, lightly brushed with strings on mute. The Scherzo with its Hungarian-spiced Trio and the rollicking Finale bought the music to its stirring conclusion. The small audience treated to this superlative show was made to feel like very important people indeed.

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