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Ensemble Quintessence at Blackheath Halls, 2 March 2003
Ligeti Six Bagatelles
Tansy Davies Fern
Joe Duddell Endgame
Janacek Mladi
Gareth Brady Scara Brae

Review in Guide Magazine, April 1998

Grown from a five girls wind quintet first encountered in 1998 to a flexible bi-gendered ensemble, Ensemble Q added bass clarinet & percussion to their core quintet for Sunday Morning at Blackheath. This was one of the best concerts in an exceptionally good current series.

The Ligeti pieces were well tuned and sharp as you could wish, every point made unerringly in the Recital Room's improved acoustics, and Joe Duddell's well crafted (and optionally ordered) work should continue to find a place in recital programmes, but perhaps would go better with its slighter second movement to finish.

The players listen to each other, the 'quintessence' of good chamber music playing, and they reduce dynamics to accompany their colleagues, so that the texture is ever changing. For example, the flautist displayed a wide range of tone and dynamics, and in Mladi never let her piccolo screech.

The Janacek was introduced by Stuart King as being a wistful looking back to youth, with anxiety and regret in this performance more prominent than high spirits. One of the century's most imperishable masterpieces, I must have heard it fifty times but its freshness never palls, and this account brought out new facets. The Quintessence's interpretation of Mladi possibly grew from the elderly composer's addition of bass clarinet, and this theme was taken further in Tansy Davies's new piece for them.

Fern's starting point was some Klee and Kandinsky pictures. It is a continuous work of some 18 minutes combining clarity and accessibility, staccato articulation letting in air so that everything could be heard. The darker tones of cor anglais, bass clarinet and contra bassoon suffused its 'nocturnal' quality, punctuated by crisp comments from percussion to keep everything in order. This was the world premiere of a piece which will live, and I am glad that it is to be included in the second CD which the group will record shortly.

For encore, Gareth Brady sent us home with unclouded high spirits, Scara Brae a real winner.

Quintessence's first CD, made for the Classical Record Company shortly after I heard them the other side of the River Thames, includes Hindemith's Kleine kammermusik and Tansy Davies's Pinnacles which they had commissioned, a very different three movement wind quintet by a composer increasingly prominent on the British new music scene. Click here to listen to a track of Pinnacles (Classical Record Company 816-2).


© Peter Grahame Woolf