Ensemble 360

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Wednesday 22 May 2024, 7.15pm

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

Past Event

RAVEL Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré for violin & piano (3′)
SAINT-SAËNS Oboe Sonata (12′)
ADÈS Alchymia for clarinet quintet (24′)
MESSAGER Solo de Concours for solo clarinet (6′)
FRANCK Piano Quintet (35′) 

The heart of César Franck’s Piano Quintet contains some of the most darkly passionate music he ever composed, surrounded by storms and drama that make this magnificent work a truly captivating experience. Thomas Adès is one of our greatest living composers and his chamber music glimmers with intricate beauty and exquisite colours. Alchymia is inspired by the world of Tudor England, and Adès makes reference to composers of that time as well as the influence of Shakespeare. Opening with Maurice Ravel’s homage to his teacher Gabriel Fauré, this concert looks back to those who shaped him and forward to those writing today for whom he remains a guiding light. 

Note from Guest Curator, Steven Isserlis 

Thomas Adès, with his deep love of both Couperin and Fauré, makes a guest appearance in this mostly Gallic affair, with his magnificent clarinet quintet. The programme ends with César Franck’s stormy piano quintet, a shockingly bold outpouring from a composer who until then had been known for his quiet piety; it is said that the transformation was effected by his passionate love for Augusta Holmés. If so, that was quite a passion! 

This concert is generously sponsored by Kim Staniforth. 

Part of Sheffield Chamber Music Festival 2024. 

View the brochure online here or download it below.


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RAVEL Maurice, Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré for violin and piano

Ravel composed this Berceuse for a special Fauré number of the Revue musicale. He had remained on friendly terms with his former teacher and was thus delighted to contribute to the special celebratory supplement entitled Hommage à Gabriel Fauré (the other contributors were also Fauré pupils: Georges Enesco, Florent Schmitt, Louis Aubert, Charles Koechlin, Paul Ladmirault and Roger-Ducasse). The ‘name of Gabriel Fauré’ of Ravel’s title was a representation of his name in music: a legend at the head of Ravel’s score shows how ‘Gabriel Fauré’ was transformed into a melody based on the notes GABDBEE FAGDE. This short piece is marked to be played ‘Semplice’ and the theme is presented by a muted violin over piano chords.

Nigel Simeone

SAINT-SAËNS Camille, Oboe Sonata in D, Op.166

Ad libitum. Allegretto 
Molto allegro 

Composed in May–June 1921, this is one of three woodwind sonatas composed by Saint-Saëns at the very end of his life. It is dedicated to Louis Bas, first oboe of the Paris Opéra and the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. The opening has an eighteenth-century flavour and the whole work is notable for its restraint and classical poise. One of the most memorable moments in this exquisitely crafted piece occurs at the start of the second movement, where the oboe plays freely over arpeggiated chords on the piano before moving into an elegant triple-time Allegretto. The Finale, in quick compound time, is delicately written and witty. 


Nigel Simeone ©2014 

ADÈS Thomas, Alchymia for for clarinet quintet

  1. A Sea-Change (…those are pearls…)
  2. The Woods So Wild

III. Lachrymae 

  1. Divisions on a Lute-song: Wedekind’s Round


The clarinet quintet Alchymia is woven from four threads leading out of the alchemical world of Elizabethan London. The movement titles refer to: 

William Shakespeare, The Tempest 1611 – the  king’s eyes transformed by the sea into pearls. 

The Woods So Wild 1612 – Tudor popular song transformed by William Byrd into keyboard divisions (variations). 

Lachrymae 1600 – (Tears) – John Dowland’s lute-song, which he transformed into viol consort Fantasias.  

Divisions on a Lute-song: Wedekind’s Round – variations on the playwright Frank Wedekind’s Lautenlied (lute-song), which is played by clarinet, imitating a barrel-organ in the London street, in the final scene of Alban Berg’s opera Lulu. 


© Thomas Adès 

MESSAGER André, Solo de concours for solo clarinet

Starting in 1897, the French Ministry of Education commissioned a new solo de concours for the annual competition at the Paris Conservatoire. Within a few years, these included works by Charles-Marie Widor, André Messager, Augusta Holmès, Reynaldo Hahn and Debussy (the Première rhapsodie). Messager’s piece was written for the competition in 1899. By this time, he had become an extremely successful theatre composer, with works such as the ballet Les deux pigeons and the comic opera Véronique, but in 1898 he agreed to become conductor of the Opéra-comique in Paris and for several years had much less time for composing. He conducted the first performances in France of Puccini’s Tosca and Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel as well as the world premieres of Charpentier’s Louise and, most importantly, Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, a performance which prompted Debussy to describe Messager as ‘the ideal conductor’. A lifelong friend of Fauré, Messager was an astonishingly versatile musician and his Solo de concours is an attractive demonstration of his ability to test virtuosity at the same time as producing memorable melodies. An Allegro non troppo gives way to a central Andante before a return of the opening material and a brief, brilliant coda.  


© Nigel Simeone 

FRANCK César, Piano Quintet in F minor

1. Molto moderato quasi lento
2. Lento, con molto sentimento
3. Allegro non troppo, ma con fuoco


Born in Liège (now in Belgium), César Franck first established his reputation in Paris as supremely gifted organist at the church of St, Clotilde, where he became famous for his improvisations, but as he grew older he became more innovative – and hugely influential – as a composer. Following his appointment as a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, his pupils included Chausson and Duparc, as well as organists such as Vierne. Unlike Saint-Saëns, Franck was not particularly prolific, but his three late chamber music masterpieces – the Violin Sonata, String Quartet and the present Quintet – demonstrate a composer of striking originality at the height of his powers. The Quintet was composed between Autumn 1878 and July 1879, and first performed at the concerts of the Société Nationale de Musique in Paris on 17 January 1880. It caused something of an uproar, with Franck’s pupils wildly enthusiastic, and other members of the audience stunned into silence. Fellow-composer Édouard Lalo described the Quintet as ‘an explosion’ – an apt description for what is certainly one of Franck’s most searing and emotional works. It wasn’t only the audience who were baffled. Franck has dedicated the piece to Saint-Saëns who played the piano at the premiere, but he was dismissive of it. In a particularly insulting gesture, he walked off stage at the end of the performance and left the manuscript that Franck had copied specially for him on the piano.

This expansive and grandly-conceived Piano Quintet is a fine example of Franck’s use of cyclic form, where themes are woven through all three movements. Unlike Brahms’s Piano Quintet (in the same key), Franck has no Scherzo, but moments such as the ostinato-driven start of the Finale ensure that there’s no shortage of urgency and fire in the work. At the close the work’s main motto theme returns in a triumphant transformation.


Nigel Simeone ©2014

“[Adès’s Alchymia is] both immediate and intriguing: a 20-minute chamber work with the scope of a symphony”

The Guardian

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