MUSIC FOR OBOE & STRINGS

Ensemble 360

All Saints Church - Darton, Barnsley
Sunday 23 June 2024, 4.00pm

Tickets: £14.50
£10 PIP, UC & DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Book Tickets

BRITTEN Phantasy Quartet Op.2 (13′)
ELGAR Andante and Allegro (7′)
MOZART String Quartet in D K.499 (25′)
FINZI Interlude for strings and oboe (11′)
CLARKE Poem for string quartet (10′)
BAX Oboe Quintet (18′)

Ensemble 360 returns with a captivating programme of virtuosic music which combines the haunting world of the oboe with the richness of the strings. Featuring one of Benjamin Britten’s most assured early works, alongside Bax’s celebrated quintet and Rebecca Clarke’s haunting ‘poem’ for string quartet. This is a captivating programme centred on exquisite English music for oboe, beautiful miniatures and expansive chamber music.

In partnership with Hoylandswaine Arts Group.

Seating:
Seats are church pews; feel free to bring your own cushion for extra comfort.

Parking:
Car parking is available behind the church, with a path leading directly to the church building. Postcode: S75 5LZ

BRITTEN Benjamin, Phantasy Quartet in F sharp minor

Andante con moto – Allegro vivace – Andante con moto

Bridge had already been successful in Walter Wilson Cobbett’s competition to write a ‘Phantasy’ – Cobbett’s reinvention of the Elizabeth Fantasy as new single-movement chamber works – and in 1910 he (along with Vaughan Williams and others) was commissioned by Cobbett to compose a Phantasy Piano Quartet. It’s a work in a satisfying arch form based on free-flowing musical ideas all of which derive from the powerful opening gesture. Bridge’s most famous pupil, Benjamin Britten, wrote in a programme note for the Aldeburgh Festival about this piece. He described the music as ‘Sonorous yet lucid, with clear, clean lines, grateful to listen to and to play. It is the music of a practical musician, brought up in German orthodoxy, but who loved French romanticism and conception of sound—Brahms happily tempered with Fauré.’

Nigel Simeone 2013

ELGAR Edward, Andante and Allegro for oboe and strings

This very early piece, composed in about 1878, was probably written to be played at the Worcester Glee Club. The manuscript in the British Library is, curiously, headed ‘Xmas music’ on the oboe part. The Andante is graceful, and the second movement is reminiscent of a Mendelssohn Scherzo.

Nigel Simeone 2013

MOZART Amadeus, String Quartet in D K499

1. Allegretto
2. Menuetto and Trio. Allegretto
3. Adagio
4. Allegro

 

Like Haydn before him, Mozart habitually published his string quartets in groups of six (the ‘Haydn’ Quartets) or three (the ‘Prussian’ Quartets). Between these two sets there is a single work, entered in Mozart’s manuscript catalogue of his own works on 19 August 1786 as ‘a quartet for 2 violins, viola and violoncello’. The autograph manuscript (in the British Library) is simply titled ‘Quartetto’. It was published in 1788 by the Viennese firm founded by Mozart’s friend Franz Anton Hoffmeister and it has come to be known as the ‘Hoffmeister’ Quartet as a result. The first movement opens with a theme in octaves that outlines a descending D major arpeggio – an idea that dominates much of the movement despite some startling harmonic excursions along the way. The development section is marked by almost continuous quaver movement that gives way magically to the opening theme at the start of the recapitulation. The Minuet has an easy-going charm that contrasts with the sterner mood (and minor key) of the Trio section. The great Mozart biographer Alfred Einstein thought the Adagio spoke ‘of past sorrow, with a heretofore unheard-of-depth’. It is not only a deeply touching movement but also an extremely ingenious one, not least when the initial idea heard on two violins returns on viola and cello, investing the same music with a darker, richer texture. The finale is fast and playful, but there’s also astonishing inventiveness in the flow of ideas, from the opening triplets with their chromatic twists to a contrasting theme which scampers up and down the scale. A few sudden and surprising dynamic contrasts keep the listener guessing right to the end.

 

Nigel Simeone

FINZI Gerald, Interlude for Strings and Oboe

Gerald Finzi began work on this piece in 1932 but only completed it four years later, in 1936. The first performance was given at the Wigmore Hall by Leon Goossens (to whom Finzi subsequently dedicated the work) and the Menges Quartet, on 24 March 1936. Finzi was particularly touched by Goossens’s enthusiasm for the piece, having been unsure if the great oboist would be interested in the work: a nervous composer wrote to his friend Howard Ferguson: “I see that Leon, the pride of oboeland, is playing with the Isolde Menges Quartet … Perhaps he’ll say that the Interlude isn’t big enough for him.”

He needn’t have worried, but this lovely work is just one of four published pieces of chamber music by Finzi.

 

Nigel Simeone © 2012

BAX Arnold, Oboe Quintet

Tempo molto moderato – Allegro moderato – Tempo primo
Lento espressivo
Allegro giocoso – Più lento – Vivace

 

Bax wrote his Oboe Quintet in 1922, just after completing the first of his seven symphonies. The inspiration for writing a work for oboe and strings was the playing of the great oboist Leon Goossens, to whom the work is dedicated. Bax’s biographer Lewis Foreman has drawn attention to the Irish elements in the music of this work: not only the jig-like final movement, but also in some of the atmospheric writing earlier in the work. The first movement begins with some richly harmonized string chords, and the oboe’s first entrance is rhapsodic, and rather melancholy. The main Allegro moderato has a strong, muscular drive and also demonstrates Bax’s brilliant instrumental technique, drawing a remarkable range of colours from the strings. A wistful recollection of the opening music brings the movement to a serene close. The slow movement opens with a beautiful first violin melody (again, suggestive of Irish folk music). The oboe enters with something rather different: a wistful, cadenza-like passage that is then developed with the strings. While there is plenty of veiled lyricism in this movement, Bax always remains a little questioning, and there’s a slightly uneasy calm at the close. The finale begins in overtly Irish high spirits, but this movement isn’t quite the romp that the opening might suggest. As Lewis Foreman put it, ‘all too soon clouds cover the sun and the spectres return’ in a passage that is slower and more reflective. The dance-like music returns but even at the close there is a brief moment of reflection before the final cadence.

 

Nigel Simeone © 2011

‘AMERICAN’ STRING QUARTET & MORE

Ensemble 360

Tickets
£14.50 
£10 UC, PIP and DLA
£5 Students & Under 35s

Past Event
String players of Ensemble 360

SUK Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Clarinet Quintet
HOWELLS Rhapsodic Quintet
DVOŘÁK Quartet in F Op. 96 ‘American’

A sumptuous afternoon of music performed by Ensemble 360, including Dvořák’s beloved ‘American’ string quartet and two clarinet quintets showcasing the lush harmonies of Howells and Coleridge-Taylor.

Part of Hoylandswaine Festival

SUK Josef, Mediation on the Old Czech Chorale

Josef Suk, a student of Antonín Dvořák and later his son-in-law, was a composer with a distinct artistic voice and strong ties to Czech musical heritage. His composition, the “Meditation on an Old Czech Chorale,” pays homage to the Bohemian patron saint, St. Wenceslas, and was written when a member of the Bohemian String Quartet to supplement the obligatory playing of the Austrian national anthem (after 1914) with a more distinctively Bohemian piece, and prayer for the wellbeing of the Czech people.

The “Meditation on an Old Czech Chorale’” is a single-movement for string quartet, which was later expanded into a version for string orchestra, adding a double bass line, and later still adapted for violin and organ. Suk‘s use of the violin as the leading voice enhances the expressive nature of the piece, allowing for moments of spiritual contemplation. The work commences with a solemn and tender introduction, featuring the initial statement of the hymn melody. Through subtle variations, this simple melody moves from serene introspection to intense and soaring passages as a recurring motif. The piece reaches a climax with the violin in its highest register, conveying a profound yearning. It gradually fades away, into tranquility.

COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Samuel, Clarinet Quintet Op.10

Allegro energico
Larghetto affettuoso
Scherzo. Allegro leggiero
Finale. Allegro agitato – Poco più moderato – Vivace

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in London and entered to Royal College of Music in 1890 to study the violin. His ability as a composer soon became apparent, and he studied composition with Stanford, becoming one of his favourite pupils. His Piano Quintet Op.1 (1893) heralded the arrival of a remarkable talent, but the Clarinet Quintet, composed in 1895, demonstrates Coleridge-Taylor at the height of his creative powers. Stanford had given his students a challenge, declaring that after Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet, written in 1891, nobody would be able to escape its influence. Coleridge-Taylor couldn’t resist trying, and when Stanford saw the result he is said to have exclaimed ‘you’ve done it!’ Coleridge-Taylor took his influences not from Brahms but from another great contemporary composer: in places this work sounds like the clarinet quintet that Dvořák never wrote. That’s a mark of Coleridge-Taylor’s wonderfully fluent and assured writing. The sonata form first movement is both confident and complex, with the clarinet forming part of an intricately-woven ensemble texture. The Larghetto has a free, rhapsodic character, dominated by a haunting main theme. The Scherzo delights in rhythmic tricks while the central Trio section is more lyrical. The opening theme of the finale governs much of what follows until a recollection of the slow movement gives way to an animated coda. The first performance took place at the Royal College of Music on 10 July 1895, with George Anderson playing the clarinet. Afterwards, Stanford wrote to the great violinist Joseph Joachim describing the piece as ‘the most remarkable thing in the younger generation that I have seen.’

HOWELLS Herbert, Rhapsodic Quintet for Clarinet and Strings Op.31 

Lento, ma appassionato – A tempo, tranquillo – Piu mosso, inquieto – Doppio movimento ritmico, e non troppo allegro – Più elato – Meno mosso – Lento, assai tranquillo – Più adagio 

Herbert Howells is probably best remembered for his church music (including the famous hymn tune ‘All my hope on God is founded’ as well as several outstanding settings of service music) and for his choral masterpiece Hymnus paradisi. But he was also a gifted composer for instruments and wrote a good deal of chamber music at the start of his career. The Rhapsodic Quintet was completed in June 1919 and Howells himself said that there was ‘a mystic feeling about the whole thing’. Still, mystic feelings didn’t come without some serious hard work, and the Howells scholar Paul Spicer has drawn attention to an entry in the composer’s diary where he noted that the quintet had involved quite a lot of preparatory thinking. Howells wrote of his ‘long ponderous thoughts on problems of musical form … hours spent in an easy-chair, fire-gazing, form-thinking.’ The ‘form-thinking’ was clearly productive, since this beautifully written quintet for clarinet and strings in one movement appears to flow effortlessly from one idea to the next as well as having overall coherence. This was an early work – Howells had only recently finished his studies at the Royal College of Music with Stanford and Charles Wood – but his handling of the instruments shows tremendous assurance. Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music makes particular mention of this, describing the work as having a ‘sensitive appreciation of instrumental needs’, but there is more to it than that, since Howells also shows a great gift for unfolding long, lyrical melodies, and contrasting these with more capricious ideas. It’s this combination of fluent and idiomatic writing with memorable thematic material that led Christopher Palmer, in his biography of Howells, to call the Rhapsodic Quintet ‘an outstanding achievement’.  

DVOŘÁK Antonin, String Quartet in F Op.96 The American Quartet

Allegro ma non troppo
Lento
Molto vivace
Finale. Vivace ma non troppo

Dvořák was teaching in New York in 1893, and for his summer holiday he travelled over a thousand miles westwards, to the village of Spillville in Iowa, set in the valley of the Turkey River. It had been colonized by Czechs in the 1850s and in these congenial surroundings Dvořák quickly wrote the String Quartet in F major. On the last page of the manuscript draft, he wrote: ‘Finished on 10 June 1893, Spillville. I’m satisfied. Thanks be to God. It went quickly.’

Coming immediately after the ‘New World’ Symphony (which was to have its triumphant première in New York later in the year), the quartet has a mood that suggests something of his contentment in Spillville. Dvořák’s assistant Josef Kovařík recalled the composer’s routine: walks, composing, playing the organ for Mass and talking to locals, observing that he ‘scarcely ever talked about music and I think that was one of the reasons why he felt so happy there.’

Just how ‘American’ is the quartet? While remaining completely true to himself, Dvořák admitted that ‘as for my … F major String Quartet and the Quintet (composed here in Spillville) – I should never have written these works the way I did if I hadn’t seen America’. The first performance was given in Boston on New Year’s Day 1894 by the Kneisel Quartet.

© Nigel Simeone