Ensemble 360

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Saturday 14 May 2022, 7.15pm

Tickets: £20
£14 Disabled & Unemployed
£5 Students & Under 35s

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Past Event

WATKINS ‘Resurrection of the Soldiers’ from Four Spencer Pieces (6’)
GRIME Aviary Sketches (after Joseph Cornell) (12′)
CAGE Nocturne for violin and piano (5′)
DEBUSSY Preludes Nos. 2 & 4 from Book 2 (7′)
GRIME Whistler Miniatures (12’)
JS BACH Prelude & Fugue in E minor BWV900 (4’)
CHOPIN Nocturne Op.15 Nos.1 & 2 (9’)
CHOPIN Nocturne Op.48 No.1 (6’)
CHOPIN Nocturne Op.55 No.2 (6’)
JS BACH Prelude & Fugue in F BWV880 (5’)

Music inspired by giants of painting fills the opening half of this concert. Starting with Huw Watkins’ contemplative and architectural vision of Stanley Spencer’s memorial altarpiece, the programme explores works inspired by Richter and Cornell among others. It concludes with Helen Grime’s subtle, jagged and, at times, peaceful piano trio – a musical evocation of three chalk and pastel works by Whistler. 

After the interval, the programme focuses on works for solo piano that have inspired visual artists. Chopin’s four nightscapes gave birth to Whistler’s languid, darkly beautiful paintings of the same name. These are bookended by two preludes and fugues by JS Bach that set Paul Klee’s creative mind ablaze, inspiring a number of the artist’s colourful abstract works.

Projections of artworks will provide a backdrop to this concert.

This concert is dedicated to Dr Margaret Staniforth, a great supporter of The Lindsays and Music in the Round for many years.

Please note the change to the previously advertised programme for this concert.
We apologise for any disappointment this may cause.

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival runs 13–21 May 2022

Download the Festival brochure


WATKINS Huw, ‘Resurrection of the Soldiers’ from Four Spencer Pieces

This sequence for solo piano actually comprises six pieces, since the four titled movements inspired by paintings of Sir Stanley Spencer are enclosed between a Prelude and Postlude in which serenely descending harmonies settle on repeated notes, tolling like a distant bell. And repeated notes prove a recurrent feature of the Spencer Pieces proper.
The distant, tolling bell of the Prelude returns at the still opening of the longest movement ‘The Resurrection of Soldiers’, with convergent high and low sonorities suggesting a passing echo of ‘Le gibet’ from Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. In due course the music passes over into a convolved fugue, but so subtly that it is difficult tell exactly where the transition occurs – or where it passes back again into the preludial music.
Not least striking about the Four Spencer Pieces, is how Watkins, even at his most aggressively chromatic, contrives to keep his textures clean of the dispiriting greyness of so much ‘advanced’ piano writing. The Maidenhead Music Society commissioned the work in 2001 and Watkins gave the premiere in the parish church at Cookham, the Thames-side village Spencer lived in for so long and transfigured in his paintings.
© Bayan Northcott, 2012

GRIME Helen, Aviary Sketches (after Joseph Cornell)


Cast in five movements, each takes its starting point and character from the works, listed above, by Joseph Cornell. What interests me about his assemblage boxes is his ability to create miniature worlds. They are immediate and alluring but also rich in associations.

Each movement treats the ensemble in a different way, exploring the range of possibilities inherent in the combination. In the first movement, two are pitched against one but the groupings are continually shifting. There is a reference to Ravel’s Oiseaux Tristes in the melody that is spun through it and also in the rapid figuration throughout.

Marked ‘mechanical’, the second movement features a pizzicato cello line in ever changing patterns set against repeated gestures in violin and viola. Gradually everyone plays the pizzicato line with the repeated gestures skittered between violin and viola, this material eventually taking centre stage. The pizzicato becomes the repeated material before shortening at each statement until we are left with just one note.

In the third movement, a solo viola line is punctuated by flurried bursts of activity in the violin and cello. Eventually everyone comes together in a unison line before the viola comes to the fore again.

In FORGOTTEN GAME, an exchange of quiet, ephemeral harmonics is interrupted by fast, violent outbursts. The juxtaposition becomes more rapid and tense before its release.

The final movement opens with a chorale and is interspersed with fleeting, intertwined passages. The two things become one leading to an impassioned climax. A very quiet, slow coda reflects on what has come before.

© 2015 Helen Grime

CAGE John, Nocturne for violin and piano

In this piece, Cage tries to soften the distinctions inherent between the two instruments used. Overall, the piece has an atmospheric character, like many other compositions from this period. It should be played with sustained resonances, and ‘sempre rubato’, giving the work a quirkily Romantic feel. The piano part employs mostly chordal arpeggios and tone clusters, the violin part mostly sustained tones.


GRIME Helen, Whistler Miniatures

Three Whistler Miniatures falls into three movements, contrasted in mood and tempo:

I: The Little Note in Yellow and Gold (Tranquillo)
II: Lapis Lazuli (Presto)
III: The Violet Note (Lontano, molto flessibile)

The titles refer to three chalk and pastel miniatures, which are displayed in the Veronese Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Although the music does not relate directly to the pictures, I was taken by the subtly graduated palate and intimate atmosphere suggested by each of them.

Throughout the piece the violin and cello form a sort of unit, which is set against the contrasting nature of the piano.

The first movement opens with a very quiet and gentle piano melody. Gradually the violin and cello become part of the texture, but moving at a slower pace. The violin and cello form an overlapping two-part melody, very high in register and ethereal in quality whilst the piano moves at a quicker pace with a more detailed and elaborate version of the string material creating a delicate, layered effect. This leads to a faster section, the two string instruments have overlapping material with more agitated outbursts from the piano. This builds to an impassioned and somewhat flamboyant piano solo, featuring falling gestures and is interspersed with an intensified and quicker version of the previous string material until the end of the movement.

The second movement is lively and virtuosic for all three players. A running continuous line is passed back and forth between the cello and violin, eventually being taken by the piano before a more melodic section. Lyrical lines are contrasted with the more jagged material of the opening, the three instruments coming together in rhythmic unison before an extended and complete melody is heard in the violin and cello. Each melodic entry is lower in register and dynamic, seeming to die away before the final presto section takes over until the movement’s close.

Beginning with a distant high piano melody and set against muted strings ‘quasi lullaby’, the third movement alludes to the textures and material of the opening of the piece. A more agitated florid section leads to a heightened rendition of the piano melody for high cello surrounded by filigree passagework in the piano and violin. The violin takes over before the final section, which combines the piano writing from the opening of the first movement, but here it is much darker in nature.

© Helen Grime

BACH Johann Sebastian, Prelude & Fugue in E minor BWV900

This prelude and fugue forms part of a quintet of works in a succession of keys C-D-E-F-G. It is unknown whether Bach wrote them for teaching or as part of a larger project similar to The Well Tempered Clavier but there is no manuscript with possible answers. The two-part work starts with a prelude filled with fugue elements. In just eighteen bars, Bach manages to squeeze in three sections, each closing with a string of fast notes. The fugue itself is less complex than you might expect from Bach, which may explain the term ‘fughetta’ – as the diminutive does not apply to the length of the piece. The theme builds up tension with surprising pauses, which are later filled in spiritedly by the counter theme. In its final entrance, the main theme itself is also ornamented, as the introduction to a powerful ending.

CHOPIN Frédéric, Nocturne Op.15 Nos.1 & 2

Chopin’s fourth nocturne is in simple ternary form (A–B–A). The first section, in F major, features a very simple melody over a descending triplet pattern in the left hand. The middle section in F minor, in great contrast to the outer themes, is fast and dramatic (Con fuoco) using a challenging double note texture in the right hand. After a return to the serene A theme, the ending does not contain a coda, but rather two simple arpeggios. Some critics have remarked that this nocturne has little to do with night, as if sunlight is “leaking” from the piece’s seams. Chopin’s fifth nocturne is marked Larghetto, featuring an intricate, elaborately ornamental melody over an even quaver bass. The second section, labelled doppio movimento (double speed), resembles a scherzo with dotted quaver-semi quaver melody, semiquavers in a lower voice in the right hand, and large jumps in the bass. The final section is a shortened version of the first (14 bars rather than 24) with characteristic cadenzas and elaboration, finishing with an arpeggio on F♯ major, falling at first, then dying away. Many consider this nocturne to be the best of the opus, stating that its musical maturity matches some of his later nocturnes.

CHOPIN Frédéric, Nocturne Op.48 No.1

Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor is among the finest of all his explorations of this form. More overtly dramatic than most of his other nocturnes, it begins with a solemn, halting melody in the right hand, supported by chords that have some of the characteristics of a funeral march. The result, though, is more lyrical and more plangent (reminding us of Chopin’s fondness for bel canto opera) than the austere tread of his most famous funeral march (in the B flat minor Sonata). The central section is a richly harmonized chorale in C major, that is – in due course –infiltrated and disturbed by a quicker, more chromatic figure in a triplet rhythm that eventually provokes an explosive climax – complete with Lisztian octaves – before the music turns back to the minor key, and the material from the opening. Here Chopin does something unexpected. The uneasy triplet rhythms that had disrupted the chorale are now transformed into a restless, agitated accompaniment for the melody, and it is only in the last two bars that the nervousness finally subsides.


This Nocturne was the first of a pair dedicated to a favourite Chopin pupil – Laure Duperré, the beautiful daughter of an admiral – and was first published in 1841 by Schlesinger in Paris. The following year, it was reviewed in the Revue et Gazette musicale by Maurice Bourges. Writing in the form of a letter to an unnamed Baroness, Bourges offers a description of the work’s design that was quite novel for the time outside the pages of composition treatises (Schumann was one of the few who had attempted something similar in the general musical press): ‘Here in a few words is an outline of the thirteenth nocturne. A first period, in C minor, is distinguished by the character of the melody that dominates it; the second, in C major, begins pianissimo; it belongs to the complex form that has been very aptly called melodic harmony; then it ends with a restatement of the first theme, accompanied this time by pulsating chords that give the general rhythm a new warmth.’

Nigel Simeone 2010

CHOPIN Frédéric, Nocturne Op.55 No.2

The second nocturne in E flat major features a 12/8 time signature, triplet quavers in the bass, and a lento sostenuto tempo marking. The left hand features sweeping legato arpeggios from the bass to the tenor, while the right hand often plays a contrapuntal duet and a soaring single melody. There is a considerable amount of ornamentation in the right hand. The characteristic chromatic ornaments often subdivide the beats in a syncopated fashion in contrast with the steady triplets in the left hand. It differs in form from the other nocturnes in that it has no contrasting second section, the melody flowing onward from beginning to end in a uniform manner. The monotony of the unrelieved sentimentality does not fail to make itself felt. One is seized by an ever-increasing longing to get out of this oppressive atmosphere, to feel the fresh breezes and warm sunshine.

BACH Johann Sebastian, Prelude & Fugue in F BWV880

Composing 48 keyboard pieces in all 24 keys was the sort of challenge Bach enjoyed. In each of the two parts of The Well-Tempered Clavier he brought together the musical couple prelude and fugue 24 times; twelve in minor keys and twelve in major. In the preludes, he gave free rein to his imagination, and demonstrated mathematical tours de force in the fugues. In contrast to the iron discipline Bach had to apply to his church compositions, here he could abandon himself without worrying about deadlines. This Prelude and Fugue in F is from the first part of the work and dates from 1722, although it contains some music that was written in the preceding five years. Bach described the target group for this collection of pieces as follows: “For both the education of the industrious musical youngster and the enjoyment of those well-versed in this material”.