Ensemble 360

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Tuesday 17 May 2022, 3.00pm

Tickets: £15
£10 Disabled & Unemployed
£5 Students & Under 35s

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Past Event

BACEWICZ Trio for Oboe, Violin & Cello (10’)
GRIME Five Northeastern Scenes (12’)
KNUSSEN Ophelia’s Last Dance (9’)
MARTINŮ Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Cello & Piano (12’)

Celebrating the colours and expressive range of the oboe, this concert begins with an overlooked gem in Bacewicz’s spiky neo-classical trio. Helen Grime’s ‘Five Northeastern Scenes’ continues the composer’s exploration of music and visual art, portraying the landscape in which she grew up via Joan Eardley’s haunting landscape paintings. Knussen’s dancing work for solo piano creates an interlude of uneasy charm, before Martinů’s angular and lyrical quartet brings together all four instruments for a thrilling finale.

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival runs 13–21 May 2022

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BACEWICZ Grazyna, Trio for Oboe, Violin and Cello 

Adagio – Molto allegro

Bacewicz wrote this Trio when she was in her mid-twenties. It was started during a stay in Paris (where she studied with Nadia Boulanger) and completed in November 1935. The first performance followed in March 1936 at a concert of contemporary chamber music which was also attended by Prokofiev. From a stylistic point of view, its Neoclassical language owes a good deal to Boulanger’s influence, and, by extension, to Boulanger’s friend Stravinsky. At the same time, there is a distinctly Polish colour to the introductory Adagio in which an improvisatory oboe melody unfolds over a drone. The Molto allegro that follows sounds firmly in the Neoclassical mainstream, but there is more individuality and character in the lyrical second theme. The central Andante is dominated by a mood of quiet anxiety, starting with a rather hesitant oboe theme heard over uneasy string undulations. A sense of disquiet pervades the movement, with moments of relief quickly extinguished until, in the very last bars, some kind of consolation is found. The short finale is a complete contrast: quick, witty and elegantly crafted, it brings the Trio to an ebullient conclusion.   

© Nigel Simeone, 2022 

GRIME Helen, Five Northeastern Scenes

Five North Eastern Scenes for oboe and piano was commissioned by the Kunstförderverein Kreis Düren e. V. for the 2016 Spannungen chamber music festival in Heimbach, Germany. The piece is in five short movements. The first, third and fifth explore space and melancholy, while the second and fourth are fleeting and at times more violent.

This is the third work in which I have used the paintings of the Scottish artist Joan Eardley as a starting point. Her vast, emotive snow scenes painted outside in the brief periods of calm between snow storms capture the striking yet bleak beauty of North East Scotland, an area where I grew up, but have not visited for many years.

© 2016 Helen Grime

KNUSSEN Oliver, Ophelia’s Last Dance

Ophelia’s Last Dance (Ophelia Dances, Book 2) is based on a melody dating from early in 1974, which was among several ideas intended for – but ultimately excluded from – Oliver Knussen’s Third Symphony (1973-79). Some of these evolved into the ensemble piece Ophelia Dances, Book 1 (1975), but this one, which nonetheless continued to haunt him from time to time over the years. After the death of his wife, Sue Knussen, it reminded the composer of a happier time and eventually, on the occasion of Paul Crossley’s 60th birthday recital in 2004, he decided to give it a tiny frame of its own so it could be shared with listeners other than the one in his head. The present 10-minute work – written in 2009/10 – is the result. A number of other ‘homeless’ dance-fragments, related more by personal history and mood than by anything more concrete, are bound together by means of variously wrought transitions to and from rondo-like recurrences of the original melody.


MARTINŮ Bohuslav, Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Cello & Piano

Moderato poco allegro
Adagio – Andante poco moderato – Poco allegro

Martinů composed this unusually scored quartet in New York during autumn 1947 and it was first performed in November that year. The dedicatee was Leopold Mannes, a fascinating character in American musical life who invented Kodachrome colour film in his spare time. In 1936, Mannes became President of Mannes College in succession to his father. He attracted an impressive roster of musicians to the faculty, including the conductor George Szell, the theorist Heinrich Schenker, and Martinů for composition. The quartet is a diverting and charming work in two movements, the second of which combines a more serious slow movement with a jolly and affirmative finale which is full of Martinů’s typical rhythmic drive and strong sense of harmonic direction, ending firmly in C major.

Nigel Simeone © 2011