JACOBSEN & AGHAEI Ascending Bird (5’)
SCHUBERT Piano Quintet in A ‘Trout’ (40’)
SAINT-SAËNS Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs (12’)
COLERIDGE TAYLOR Nonet (25’)
Bringing Sheffield Chamber Music Festival to a fabulous conclusion, Kathryn returns to play Schubert’s enduringly joyful ‘Trout’ Quintet with Ensemble 360, a piece she last played in the Crucible with the Lindsay String Quartet at their Farewell Concert in 2005.
After a folk-inspired string quartet charting the attempts of a mythical bird to reach the sun, and Saint-Saëns’ virtuoso showcase for flute, oboe and clarinet, comes Coleridge-Taylor’s dazzling Nonet, full of swagger, rich texture and brimming with optimism.
JACOBSEN Colin & AGHAEI Siamak, Ascending Bird
American composer and violinist Colin Jacobsen spoke about the background to this exhilarating piece before a performance in 2011: ‘I wrote Ascending Bird with my friend Siamak Aghaei, a wonderful musician from Iran. The piece tells the story of a mythic bird that tries to reach the sun. It tries at first and falls back down. It tries again, then finally on the third time it receives the radiant embrace of the sun and loses its physical body, in a metaphor for spiritual transcendence.’ Written in 2007, the music is an arrangement of an old Persian folk tune, starting gently and working up to a thrilling close.
© Nigel Simeone
SCHUBERT Franz, Piano Quintet in A major D667, ‘The Trout’
Theme and Variations: Andante
Silvester Paumgartner was a wealthy amateur cellist who lived in Steyr, Upper Austria, and an enthusiastic supporter of Schubert and his music. After playing Hummel’s Piano Quintet Paumgartner wanted a quintet for the same combination of instruments (violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano) from Schubert, who visited in the summer of 1819 (and again in 1823 and 1825). Paumgartner also wanted a work that included reference to Schubert’s song Die Forelle, The Trout, which had been composed in 1817. For Schubert, his visits to Paumgartner in the Upper Austrian countryside were a delight, a chance to make music, enjoy good company and revel in the spectacular scenery.
Willi Kahl, writing in Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music wrote that ‘the fundamental tone of the piece is defined by the persistence of a major key throughout’ – underlining that this is among Schubert’s most genial chamber works. The first movement is brilliant but never flashy while the Andante is the expressive core of the work, suggesting, Kahl believed, ‘a moonlit night-song from the Styrian landscape’. The Scherzo is muscular and energetic, with a more easy-going central Trio section. In the first three variations, the theme is heard in its original form (on a different instrument each time) and remains clearly recognisable in the more freely worked fourth and fifth variations. In the last variation, Schubert brings the Quintet back to the original song as the unmistakable figurations of the song’s piano accompaniment are heard for the first time, to utterly enchanting effect. The finale is amiable and untroubled (though not without a couple of surprises), bringing this most affable of works to a properly jubilant close.
© Nigel Simeone
SAINT-SAËNS Camille, Caprice sur des Airs Danois et Russes, Op.79
Saint-Saëns wrote this piece for a series of concerts that he gave for the Red Cross in St Petersburg in April 1887. It is dedicated to Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia, and the composer wrote it for himself to play on piano with three other specific players in mind: flautist Paul Taffanel, oboist Georges Gillet and clarinettist Charles Turban. For the sources of the tunes, Saint-Saëns wrote to Julien Tiersot, the leading French expert on traditional music at the time, requesting suitable Danish and Russian themes. Before leaving for Russia, the work was rehearsed in Paris, and Saint-Saëns invited the singer and composer Pauline Viardot to hear the new piece, after which he travelled to Russia with Taffanel, Gillet and Turban.
Following a flamboyant introduction, Saint-Saëns introduces a succession of traditional themes, varies and repeats them, and occasionally mixes them together, all composed with his characteristic inventiveness and skill.
Nigel Simeone © 2012
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Samuel, Nonet in F minor Op.2
Andante con moto
Finale. Allegro vivace
Coleridge-Taylor composed his Nonet in 1893–4, while he was a student at the Royal College of Music, and it was first performed there in July 1894. Still in his teens, Coleridge-Taylor has modestly headed the score ‘Gradus ad Parnassum’ (Steps to Parnassus), suggesting he realised that he still had plenty to learn. His teacher at the RCM was Charles Villiers Stanford, and the work reveals the clear influence of Brahms – a composer Stanford himself admired enormously.
The Nonet is conceived on quite a grand scale. The first movement immediately reveals Coleridge-Taylor’s skill in writing for nine instruments: at times the textures are almost orchestral while at others he reduces the forces to evoke the more private world of chamber music. There’s a similar kind of contrast in the main themes: the first of these, broad and expansive, is initially heard on the clarinet before being taken up by the whole ensemble. The second theme is livelier, with dotted rhythms, and it is introduced by the piano. The Andante reveals Coleridge-Taylor’s gift for song-like melodies (with some phrases suggesting the influence of Dvořák on the young composer), while the Scherzo (in duple rather than triple time) is highly animated, with a warm Trio section led by the horn. Again, the benign shadow of Dvořák seems to hover over this movement. The instrumental writing in the ebullient finale is particularly colourful, with some magical effects.
A review appeared in the August 1894 issue of Musical Times where the un-named critic commented that ‘the whole Nonet is most interesting, its themes are fresh and vigorous, and their treatment proves that the writer has learnt to compose with skill. The scherzo is unquestionably the most striking movement, and few would guess it to be the work of one still a student.’
© Nigel Simeone, 2021