Ensemble 360

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 20 November 2023, 7.30pm


£10 – £20

Past Event

RACHMANINOV Trio élégiaque No.1 in G minor (14’)
PROKOFIEV Quintet in G minor (21’)
PROKOFIEV Overture on Hebrew Themes (9’)
TCHAIKOVSKY String Quartet No.2 in F Op.22 (36’)

The world-class musicians from Ensemble 360 return with a blistering programme of Russian music to celebrate the 150th birthday of Sergei Rachmaninov, best known for his sweeping symphonic music and monumental works for piano. They open with his heart-wrenching trio and conclude with a rarely-performed piece by Tchaikovsky, considered by the composer to be his best work of all: a dense, lyrical and dramatic quartet which shares much with his better known large-scale works.

There will be a post-show Q&A with the artists and Colin Jagger of Portsmouth Chamber Music.

Series Discount: 20% discount if you book any 6 or more Portsmouth Chamber Music/Sounds of Now concerts.

Time advertised is the start time, please check your ticket for door time.

RACHMANINOV Sergei, Trio élégiaque No.1 in G minor

Lento lugubre
Tempo primo
Più vivo
Alla marcia funebre


Rachmaninov wrote two piano trios, both called “elegiac”. The second (D minor) trio was composed at the end of 1893 as a memorial to Tchaikovsky, but the present G minor Trio dates from January 1892, and was first performed on 30 January 1892 with Rachmaninov at the piano and his friend Anatoly Brandukov as the cellist – later to be the dedicatee of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata and best man at Rachmaninov’s wedding. The G minor Trio was written while Rachmaninov was still a student, and is a single-movement lamentation. The main theme (reminiscent of a melody in Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony) is first presented by the piano over shimmering bare fifths. This idea dominates the movement, appearing in a variety of guises, and the contrasting falling melody that is no more consoling. The final presentation of the main idea is the most stark – a transformation into a funeral march.


Nigel Simeone © 2011

PROKOFIEV Sergei, Quintet in G minor

Tema con variazioni
Andante energico
Allegro sostenuto, ma con brio
Adagio pesante
Allegro precipitato, ma non troppo presto


Prokofiev’s Quintet Op.39 of 1924 incorporates music from Trapeze, a ballet he composed at the same time. Written while Prokofiev was living in Paris for a company that could only afford a small instrumental ensemble, the original ballet comprised eight movements of which six were used in the Quintet. The language is often astringent but Prokofiev is highly imaginative in the way he uses limited resources to the fullest possible effect. After a Theme and Variations that moves from a deadpan opening to frenetic energy before returning to the music of the start, the second movement opens with a double bass solo before some rather acidic writing for the whole ensemble. The short Allegro sostenuto, ma con brio is a witty scherzo-type movement that is followed by the darkest part of the Quintet, a brooding Adagio pesante notable for some unusual instrumental colours including sul ponticello string writing. The Allegro precipitato is another brilliant, highly animated exploration of intriguing sonorities, while the concluding Andante is more stately to begin with, becoming a little livelier in the central section, and ending vigorously, with the parts marked tumultuoso e precipitato.

PROKOFIEV Sergei, Overture on Hebrew Themes

Prokofiev composed this piece for clarinet, string quartet and piano in 1919, while he was on tour in the USA. It was commissioned by the Zimro Ensemble, a Russian group who had recently arrived in America. The ‘Hebrew’ themes Prokofiev used were very probably composed by Simeon Bellison, the group’s clarinettist. The premiere was given by Prokofiev with the Zimro Ensemble in New York on 2 February 1920.


Nigel Simeone 2014

TCHAIKOVSKY Pyotr, String Quartet No.2 in F Op.22

Adagio – Moderato assai 
Scherzo. Allegro giusto 
Andante ma non tanto 
Finale. Allegro con moto 


Tchaikovsky wrote his Second String Quartet in January 1874 and it remains a neglected work – a fate it shares with the Third Quartet of 1876 – certainly when compared with the better-known First Quartet. In his biography Tchaikovsky: the man and his music, David Brown has suggested that the F major shows Tchaikovsky trying to grapple with the economy and rigour of Beethoven’s quartets, particularly in the first movement where the thematic material is “more concise” than might be expected with Tchaikovsky, “thus facilitating far greater flexibility in what is built from it.” This is a very fair assessment of a movement that has clear debts to Beethoven in terms of structure and compositional process. The Scherzo is delightfully quirky, based on a lopsided bar of 2, 2 and 3 beats until the more stable, waltz-like Trio section. The emotional core of the work is anguished slow movement (David Brown describes this as music of pain-filled intensity). The Rondo finale that follows is effervescent and untroubled. 


© Nigel Simeone