Kathryn Stott & Ensemble 360

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Monday 15 May 2023, 2.00pm

£14 DLA, UC & PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

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Past Event

BACH The Art of Fugue, Contrapunctus 14 (8’)
BRAHMS Piano Quintet in F minor (40’)
BEETHOVEN Septet (42′)

The electrifying intensity of Bach and the majesty of Beethoven lead into Brahms’s monumental Piano Quintet.  

Performed by our Festival Curator, Kathryn Stott, and the string players of Ensemble 360, it’s a work of spectacular romanticism and epic scope. By turns dark and demonic, melancholic and haunting, with passionate musical fireworks in conclusion, it’s a piece Kathy played regularly with the Lindsay String Quartet and its leader Peter Cropper, founder of Music in the Round. 

BACH Johann Sebastian, The Art of Fugue, Contrapunctus 14 arr. for string quartet

Bach’s contrapuntal masterpiece The Art of Fugue is shrouded in mystery: no instrumentation is specified, and the last fugue – Contrapunctus XIV – was left unfinished. The structure is also highly unusual as the work is monothematic: each of its canons and fugues representing a different treatment of the same theme. The surviving autograph manuscript appears to date from the early 1740s, and the first edition of the score appeared in 1751, a year after the composer’s death. In spite of the uncertainty of how to play the work, or what forces Bach might have had in mind, the Bach scholar Christoph Wolff has summarised its importance as ‘an exploration in depth of the contrapuntal possibilities inherent in a single musical subject.’  

© Nigel Simeone

BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, Septet in E flat Op.20

Adagio – Allegro con brio 
Adagio cantabile 
Tempo di menuetto 
Tema con variazioni. Andante 
Scherzo. Allegro molto e vivace 
Andante con moto alla marcia – Presto 

Beethoven’s Septet was written in 1799. It was first performed at a concert given by Beethoven at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 2 April 1800 and was published – after a typically querulous exchange between Beethoven and his publisher – in 1802. Aiming for the top in terms of potential supporters, Beethoven dedicated it to Maria Theresa – the last Holy Roman Empress and the first Empress of Austria. The Septet’s success was enduring, something Beethoven came to resent since he felt the public should take more interest in his later music. 


The first movement is a genial sonata form Allegro with a slow introduction. The Adagio cantabile opens with a clarinet melody that is taken over by the violin, while clarinet and bassoon play a counter-melody, all supported by a gentle accompaniment on the lower strings. The bucolic Minuet demonstrates Beethoven the recycler, using the same theme as the Piano Sonata Op.49 No.2. The relaxed mood is maintained in the charming theme and variations. The Scherzo is launched by a horn call from which much of what follows is derived. Even the start of the Trio has thematic links with this tune, but a cello theme provides an effective contrast. The finale begins with one of the few significant uses of a minor key in the Septet: a stern march that quickly gives way to a rollicking Presto, its mood unclouded and its themes deliciously memorable. 


© Nigel Simeone 2014 

BRAHMS Johannes, Piano Quintet in F minor Op.34

Allegro non troppo 
Andante, un poco adagio 
Scherzo. Allegro 
Poco sostenuto – Allegro non troppo – Presto non troppo 

In 1862, Brahms sent Clara Schumann the incomplete manuscript of a quintet for two violins, viola and two cellos. He must have been delighted by her reaction: ‘What richness in the first movement … I can’t tell you how moved I am by it, and how powerfully gripped. And what an Adagio – it sings and sounds blissful right up to the last note!’ A few months later, he asked the great violinist Joseph Joachim for his opinion. He was very positive about the work, but mentioned that ‘the instrumentation is not energetic enough to my ears to convey the powerful rhythmic convulsions.’ Brahms rewrote the piece as a Sonata for Two Pianos (and destroyed the manuscript of the string quintet version). Clara Schumann gave the first performance with the conductor Hermann Levi. She felt something was missing in the two-piano version: ‘Please, dear Johannes, do agree just this time, and rework the piece once more.’ So he did, producing a version that combined the best of both earlier versions. The result is one of Brahms’s greatest chamber works. 


But while it was immediately recognised as an important new piece, there was hardly a stampede to play it in public. It was performed privately (with Clara Schumann) in November 1864, and published in December 1865, but a Viennese première in February 1866 was abandoned at the last moment. There were early performances in Leipzig (22 June 1866), and Paris (24 March 1868). It had to wait until 1875 for a public hearing in Vienna. It subsequently enjoyed considerable success, notably when Clara Schumann, Joachim and others played it in London on 3 April 1876. 


The first movement opens with a dark-hued theme in octaves that soon develops into a turbulent drama – the music remaining in a minor key for the second theme. The slow movement has a radiance that provides a complete contrast with what has gone before. The Scherzo begins uneasily, full of suppressed energy and tense syncopations, but then bursts out into C major, and its central Trio section is one of Brahms’s most rapturous themes. The finale begins slowly, brooding and mysterious, until the main fast theme emerges. This movement’s coda hurtles towards an intense, uncompromising finish.   


Nigel Simeone © 2011 

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