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Rubbra, Bowen and Elgar

The Endymion Ensemble Blackheath Halls, 9 February 2003

This Blackheath Sundays programme of less often heard English music linked with the Elgar and Robin Milford heard at Blackheath the previous Sunday morning. The Endymion Ensemble has been quarrying the rich vein of forgotten and neglected British music of up to a hundred years ago, and told us that this exploration had been 'a lot of fun'. They have just won plaudits for a celebration of Elisabeth Lutyens at South Bank; her serialist style used to be thought dry and forbidding - now one wonders why.

Elgar's piano quintet can be hard to balance and bring off, and one can be put off by an excess of bombast in the finale, but the Endymion Ensemble gave it to best advantage, helped by the new curtain behind the platform and the sensitivity of Michael Dussek at the less-than-full-size Bosendorfer, allowing the strings to dominate without straining. This satisfying end followed Rubbra's early Lyric Piece and a rare opportunity to hear music by York Bowen (1884-1961), a 'big' pianist and the first to record Beethoven's 4th Concerto and was popular as a composer before the first World War. He never held with the new-fangled ideas of Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel and paid the price. Bowen continued to compose prolifically in a manner which harks back to Brahms, but was marginalised for the remainder of his long life because of his conservatism, although . (In my younger days, public library shelves were full of York Bowen's music.)

The Horn Quintet was a good example of chamber music which has a lot to offer, and it was well received by an encouragingly large Sunday morning audience, which took the chance to come and listen to unfamiliar music. The Endymion strings were on fine form, and Stephen Stirling a notable soloist, relishing Bowen's expertise in writing effectively for the horn. Not great music, and with few surprises as it proceeds, yet mellifluous and well crafted; a positive experience because one was hearing it without the baggage of memory one brings to each of the canonic masterpieces.

The horn quintet is included in a superbly played, recorded and produced CD of York Bowen's chamber music, Dutton Laboratories Epoch CDLX 7115

Peter Grahame Woolf


© Peter Grahame Woolf