CLOSE UP: MUSIC FOR CURIOUS YOUNG MINDS

Ensemble 360

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 22 April 2024, 1.30pm

For tickets, please email hayley.reay@portsmouthguildhall.org.uk

 

A tour through the wondrous world of chamber music, specially created for young audiences, combining well-known classical favourites with new works from surprising places. This concert for 7-11 year-olds includes thrilling musical adventures told through music, cheeky characters and epic heroes, mind-blowing musical games, and the chance to join in and make music together.   

Ideal for 7-11 year olds.

SCHUBERT String Quartet in D Minor (excerpt for ‘Close Up’)

Hey Presto! We begin with a twitchy chase from Franz Schubert, which he told the string players should be played ‘presto’ meaning ‘very quick or very fast’. How does the sound change when each musician plays on their own? How do you feel when they all play the same tune together? This tense piece kicks off an exciting hour of music…

HAYDN Russian Quartet No.3 (excerpt for ‘Close Up’)

Haydn was the composer who did most to first create a form of music for two violins, a viola and a cello: a group we know as a string quartet. This piece has the nickname ‘The Bird’ — can you hear why?

MOZART String Quartet In E Flat K428 (excerpt for ‘Close Up’)

This beautiful tune is almost like a lullaby and shows how gentle the sound of the strings can be. Listen to the way the first violin plays a tune and the other three instruments rock gently back and forth underneath, creating a warm blanket of sound. This is music to wrap up warm within. How does it make you feel?

WEIR String Quartet (excerpt for ‘Close Up’)

This string quartet was written by a composer who is making music today, the wonderful Judith Weir. A piece full of mysteries, inspired by a medieval Spanish tune. This quartet sounds like a strange landscape where it’s easy to get lost among these lopsided rhythms where nothing is quite as it seems…

SUK Josef, Meditation on an Old Czech Chorale (excerpt for ‘Close Up’)

This piece was written at the start of the first world war and is full of the drama and sadness of a scary time. But it ends full of hope with long notes seeming to climb into the air. Look and listen out for all the times the musicians play across the strings to make two or more notes sound at once — a technique called double stopping.

MEREDITH Anna, Short Tribute to Teenage Fanclub (excerpt for ‘Close Up’)

Anna Meredith is another musician writing music today. She makes music for her band as well as for classical musicians, often mixing up instruments usually seen in an orchestra with rock and pop instruments. This piece combines the two and is a tribute to one of her favourite bands performed by string quartet who don’t use their bows at all but pluck their instruments in a technique called ‘pizzicato’.

BEETHOVEN ‘The Harp’ Quartet (excerpt for ‘Close Up’)

This beautiful quartet is known as ‘the harp’ because in the first part, all four musicians have sections where they pluck the strings their instruments rather than using the bow. Can you hear the difference?

BURLEIGH Henry Thacker, Oh Lord, What A Morning (excerpt for ‘Close Up’)

This is a traditional song created by enslaved Africans in America. The composer and singer Harry Burleigh was the grandchild of slaves who became a famous musician and helped share music by black people with the rest of the world. This simple song looks forward to a better time when injustices like slavery and racism will end. Perhaps you can hear both the sadness and the hope in this beautiful music.

STRAVINSKY Igor, Three Pieces for String Quartet (excerpt for ‘Close Up’)

This spiky, short piece of music was created in Russia at the same time Suk wrote the piece we heard earlier. Stravinsky uses the plucking technique we heard in the Meredith and Beethoven, as well clashing notes and unexpected changes in pulse and speed. Stravinsky keeps us guessing what he’ll do next!

DVOŘÁK ‘American’ String Quartet (excerpt for ‘Close Up’)

This piece brings our concert to a celebratory end, from Czech composer Anton Dvořák. Listen out for all the places it gets louder, or faster — or both! — or where the quartet hang back to build tension. This piece uses folk tunes from Czechoslovakia, where Dvořák was born and started writing, and includes a native American tune, and music from all the people like him who had travelled to live and work in the USA. Bringing these together, our concert ends with an explosion of joy!

THE CHIMPANZEES OF HAPPY TOWN

Ensemble 360 & Elinor Moran

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 20 November 2023, 1.30pm

Booking for schools is now open, for tickets please contact portsmouthmusichub@portsmouthcc.gov.uk

CONCERTS FOR PRIMARY SCHOOLS

Celebrating the importance of love and happiness in everyone’s lives, Paul Rissmann’s much-loved musical retelling of Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees’s best-selling picture-book returns.  

Meet Chutney the Chimpanzee who, with one small act of planting a seed, transforms the lives of the entire town of Drabsville, and teaches its inhabitants to celebrate their differences and make life more colourful along the way!   

With narration, visuals from the book and lots of music to introduce the musicians of Ensemble 360, this is a brilliant first concert for 3 – 7 year-olds.

Presented in collaboration with the Guildhall Trust and Portsmouth Music Hub.

MARSCHNER, BRAHMS, DVOŘÁK

Gould Piano Trio

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 20 May 2024, 7.30pm

Tickets:

£10 £20

Past Event

MARSCHNER Piano Trio No.2 in G minor, Op.111 (32’)
BRAHMS Piano Trio No.3 in C minor, Op.101 (21’)
DVOŘÁK Piano Trio No.4 in E minor, Op.90 ‘Dumky’ (32’)

The Gould Piano Trio returns to Portsmouth after a warmly received collaboration with violist Gary Pomeroy in 2021. At the heart of this concert is Dvořák’s most celebrated chamber work, the ‘Dumky’ trio which takes its name from a bohemian lament. This earthy and emotionally rich work is full of contrasts, folk tunes and invention. Paired with a rarely performed trio from a celebrated opera composer and Brahms’s lush, dramatic third piano trio, this promises to be an evening of high drama and the finest musicianship.

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.

STRAVINSKY, COLERIDGE-TAYLOR, SCHUBERT

Ensemble 360

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 22 April 2024, 7.30pm

Tickets:

£10 – £20

Past Event
String players of Ensemble 360

STRAVINSKY Three Pieces for String Quartet (7’)
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Clarinet Quintet (31’)
SCHUBERT String Quartet No.14 ‘Death and the Maiden’ (40’)

A concert of contrasts, showcasing the versatility of the world-class musicians from Ensemble 360.

Schubert’s deeply personal and beloved ‘Death and the Maiden’ string quartet is set alongside two lesser-known pieces written within a century but which could hardly be more different: Stravinsky’s compelling fragments for string quartet and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s exquisite clarinet quintet. The latter is arguably the greatest achievement in Coleridge-Taylor’s chamber music, by turns lyrical and muscular. It bears the unmistakable hallmarks of Dvořák’s profound influence on this tumultuous period of music.

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.

STRAVINSKY Igor, Three Pieces for String Quartet

Composed in 1914, Stravinsky revised these pieces in 1918 when he dedicated them to the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet. The first performance was given in Paris in May 1915 by a quartet which included the composer Darius Milhaud playing violin, while the 1918 version had its premiere in London on 13 February 1919. The work comprises three short movements without titles or tempo markings. Though the dimensions of the pieces are slight, Stravinsky managed to baffle (and infuriate) early critics with the unusual sound effects and performance markings in places, and the deliberate absence of any conventional forms or traditional thematic development. Instead, the mood is by turns stange and grotesque. The second piece was inspired by the comedian Little Tich (Harry Relph) whose jerky stage act had impressed Stravinsky during a visit to London in 1914. The result might almost be described as an anti-quartet, and as the critic Paul Griffiths later remarked, these little pieces are ‘determinedly not a “string quartet”. The notion of quartet dialogue has no place here, nor have subtleties of blend: the texture is completely fragmented, with each instrument sounding for itself.’  

 Nigel Simeone 

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.’

MENDELSSOHN STRING QUARTETS

Consone Quartet

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 26 February 2024, 7.30pm

Tickets:

£10 – £20

Past Event

HAYDN String Quartet in D Op.64, No.5 ‘Lark’ (20’)
FANNY HENSEL-MENDELSSOHN String Quartet in E flat (22′)
FELIX MENDELSSOHN String Quartet in E minor Op.44, No.2 (32′)

The electrifying Consone Quartet, recent BBC New Generation Artists, comprises four sensitive and spirited musicians who have formed a dynamic ensemble prized for expressive interpretations of classical and romantic repertoire through historically informed performance.

One of Haydn’s most popular quartets opens this concert, featuring a soaring bird-like part for violin which earned the piece its Lark nickname. The evening also contrasts the music of both Mendelssohn siblings: Fanny’s raw, passionate and tempestuous quartet, the only one she published, and Felix’s stately, lyrical and deftly crafted E minor quartet.

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.

Time displayed is start time.

HAYDN Joseph, String Quartet in D Op.64, No.5 ‘Lark’

It was the soaring violin theme at the start of the first movement which gave this quartet its nickname, in a movement which wears its learning lightly, transforming the main melody in inventive ways right up to its final appearance. The hymn-like Adagio cantabile (with a contrasting minor-key central section) is followed by a Minuet which combines the feeling of a rustic dance with sophisticated motivic development. The finale is an exciting virtuoso display with almost continuous activity, but also some ingenious elements of contrast (such as the passage where the rushing main idea is treated fugally). 

 

Composed in 1790, Haydn’s Op.64 quartets were the earliest to receive their premieres at public concerts rather than at intimate gatherings of connoisseurs, and the finale of The Lark must have electrified its large audience – and delighted the composer himself: at the invitation of Johann Peter Salomon, Haydn arrived in England on New Year’s Day 1791 and remained there for the next 18 months. When the Quartets were published by the London firm of John Bland in June 1791, the title page announced that they had been ’composed by Giuseppe Haydn and perform’d under his direction at Mr Salomon’s concert, the Festino Rooms, Hanover Square’.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

HENSEL-MENDELSSOHN Fanny, String Quartet in E flat

In the last couple of decades, the increasing interest in Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn’s music has demonstrated beyond doubt that her brother Felix was not the only member of the family with extraordinary gifts. 

 

Fanny’s only String Quartet dates from 1834 but has its origins in an earlier piano sonata from 1829. That was never completed but its first two movements were reworked as the Adagio and Scherzo of the present quartet which was given its first performance at her Berlin salon in 1834. The formal freedom of this quartet is one of its most remarkable features, beginning with an intense, fantasia-like Adagio that begins in C minor before gradually working towards the home key of E flat by the end of the movement. The Scherzo in C minor, with a Trio section in C major, has something an elfin quality, whereas the following Romanze is a deeply-felt movement that shifts between G minor and major with some surprising detours into remote keys. The finale is a Rondo whose main theme (in tumbling thirds on the violins) dominates this movement, an exciting moto perpetuo. 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

MENDELSSOHN Felix, String Quartet in E minor Op.44, No.2

The last of Felix Mendelssohn’s string quartets was composed in August–September 1847 at Interlaken, a few months after the death of his sister, Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn. Written as an instrumental Requiem in her memory, it was completed shortly before Mendelssohn’s own death. The first movement is defiant and agitated, while the Scherzo is most unlike Mendelssohn’s usual Scherzo style: this is earnest, dark and intense music. The deeply-felt Adagio is the emotional heart of the work, and the movement that is most obviously elegiac in character. The uneasy start of the finale, marked by syncopations and trills, finds moments of lyricism (including some self-quotations) as well as outbursts of anger. Few works in Mendelssohn’s output are so personal, and so overtly emotional. Though Mendelssohn heard the work played privately, the first public performance took place after his death. It was given in Leipzig by a quartet led by Joseph Joachim at a memorial concert on 4 November 1848 – the first anniversary of Mendelssohn’s death.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

HAYDN, SCHUMANN & MORE

Trio Gaspard

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 29 January 2024, 7.30pm

Tickets:

£10 – £20

Past Event

HAYDN Piano Trio in A Hob.XV:9 (13’)
SCHUMANN Piano Trio No 2 in F Op.80 (27’)
HAYDN Piano Trio in E flat minor Hob XV:31 (13’)
BEAMISH Piano Trio written for Trio Gaspard’s ‘Haydn Project’ (c.10’)
LISZT Hungarian Rhapsody No.9 ‘Carnival in Pest’ (10’)

Trio Gaspard has earned an international reputation for refreshing interpretations of core piano trio repertoire and championing new music. This eclectic programme does just that, juxtaposing two trios by Haydn, the father or the form, and a short work commissioned from Sally Beamish celebrating this ever-evolving tradition. Liszt’s colourful and virtuosic Hungarian Rhapsody provides a spirited and celebratory finale.

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.

HAYDN Joseph, Piano Trio in A, Hob.XV:9

Haydn composed this trio in 1785 – the year when he also wrote the ‘Paris’ Symphonies. It was first published in February 1786 by the London firm of William Forster as one of Three Sonatas for the Harpsichord or Piano-Forte with an Accompaniment for a Violin & Violoncello and further editions appeared soon afterwards in Germany and Austria. It is cast in two movements, both in A major. The first is a spacious Adagio in which Haydn can be heard developing the notion of an ‘accompanied’ piano sonata into music where the string parts begin to emerge as more equal partners. Near the end of the movement, Haydn inserts a short cadenza-like passage before the music winds down to a gentle close. The second movement is fast and florid, with its fair share of harmonic quirks, as well as Haydn’s endless melodic invention and his irresistible flair for generating energetic momentum.  

 

© Nigel Simeone 

SCHUMANN Robert, Piano Trio No 2 in F Op.80

Schumann’s Second Piano Trio was initially sketched in 1847, while he was still finishing the Op. 63 Trio, but it was not completed until nearly two years later, in April 1849. Written in the pastoral key of F major, it is a very different work from its much darker and more dramatic predecessor. The reason for this is immensely touching: when Schumann began work, it was the tenth anniversary of his secret engagement to Clara, and the Trio is full of allusions to their first love. As Joan Chisell wrote: ‘no further guesses are needed as to why the first two movements are threaded with the opening phrase (“In the depths of my heart I keep a radiant image of you”) of his love-song Intermezzo (from the Eichendorff Liederkreis Op. 39) written for Clara just before their eventual long-delayed marriage in 1840.’ The first movement, in quick triple time, is both lively and ardently lyrical, while the song-like slow movement is a radiant outpouring of adoration. The third movement Scherzo is in a minor key, gentle and wistful. After this nostalgic interlude, the finale ends the work in a state of almost untroubled elation. For Clara Schumann this piece remained a great favourite among her husband’s works – partly, no doubt, because of its intimate private messages, but also because it shows Schumann at his most effortlessly inventive. The first performance was given in their house on 29 April 1849, in a private concert that also included the première of Schumann’s Spanisches Liederspiel for four solo voices and piano, and Clara subsequently played it on many occasions.

 

Nigel Simeone © 2010

HAYDN Joseph, Piano Trio in E flat minor Hob XV:31

Haydn’s autograph manuscript of this trio is in the British Library, part of the extraordinary music collection assembled by the writer Stefan Zweig which was later bequeathed to the nation by his heirs. The first page of music is signed and dated ‘Haydn, 1795’. The most striking aspect of this work is the key of the first movement: E flat minor (with its key signature of six flats). This was very rarely used in the eighteenth century except in works like Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier which deliberately explored all 24 major and minor keys. The Andante cantabile is rather an austere rondo, which includes some remarkable harmonic excursions (including an episode in B major) and a generally serious mood which is only lightened by a contrasting episode in E flat major. At the head of the last movement, the manuscript has a line in Haydn’s writing which has subsequently been scratched out (presumably by the composer himself): ‘Sonata: Jacob’s Dream’, a reference to Jacob’s vision in the Book of Genesis where he sees a ladder reaching from earth up to an angel-filled heaven. But Haydn’s use of the title was a joke: a violinist he knew liked to show off his playing in the highest register (apparently none too well) and Haydn peppers his cheery movement (in E flat major) with moments where the violin has to play extremely high and fast.  

 

© Nigel Simeone

BEAMISH Sally, Trance

This piece was commissioned by the Trio Gaspard to sit alongside Haydn’s piano trios. The sound of these wonderful players was in my head as I wrote. Haydn’s trios famously give a pretty subordinate role to the cello, so my first idea was to make the cello a soloist in my piece. My relationship with Haydn’s F sharp minor trio goes back to childhood, when my mother, violinist Ursula Snow, performed it many times with her trio. I must have heard hours of rehearsal.  This led me to think of my mother, and how much I miss her, and feel I understand her better as I get older. This short piece is dedicated to her memory.  

 

I took F sharp as my starting point, and threaded in occasional notes taken from Haydn’s Andante cantabile movement. The harmonies, which form a repeated chaconne-like pattern in the piano part, are also derived from the Haydn, but in my own way, and not necessarily audible to the listener. The music is like a series of fragmented memories; the violin at first ghost-like, while the cello has an improvisatory line; the violin then drawing the cello into its falling 5th motif, while the piano has the solo line. The three instruments become equal as the music comes to a head, before dissolving into a quiet final statement of the chord sequence.  

 

The melancholic nature of Haydn’s trio affected my approach, combined with memories of my mother and her gradual disappearance into dementia. The title, Trance, indicates a meditative state, but also a ‘passageway’, or departure – the confusing journey of my relationship with my mother as her personality shifted, changed and faded. 

 

Trance was commissioned by the Trio Gaspard, and first performed at the West Cork Festival on 28th June, 2023. 

© Sally Beamish 

LISZT Franz, Hungarian Rhapsody No.9 ‘Carnival in Pest’

Liszt composed his Carnival in Pest in 1847 for solo piano, the ninth of his Hungarian Rhapsodies in which he aimed to compose virtuoso works in which he could incorporate traditional music from his homeland. Carnival in Pest is dedicated to the Brno-born violinist Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, It was therefore a particularly appropriate idea for Liszt to compose a version for piano trio which includes a flamboyant violin part – in fact all three instruments are given some dazzling writing. 

Dating from 1848, the autograph manuscript of the trio version (in the collection of the Juilliard School in New York) is covered in revisions and deletions, suggesting that Liszt rethought much of the work when he made this transcription. It is a piece that is largely celebratory in mood and Liszt presents a succession of stirring Hungarian Gypsy themes with frequent changes of tempo, interspersed with cadenzas. It culminates in a triumphant reprise of the opening idea on the strings, in octaves, followed by a dizzying coda. It is unclear why Liszt did not publish the trio version during his lifetime, but it eventually appeared posthumously in 1892. 

© Nigel Simeone 

RACHMANINOV 150

Ensemble 360

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 20 November 2023, 7.30pm

Tickets:

£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
Risoluto
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
Andantino

 

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   

SCHUBERT, JANÁČEK & BRAHMS

Leonkoro Quartet

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 16 October 2023, 7.30pm

Tickets:

£10 – £20

Past Event

SCHUBERT String Quartet No.9 in G minor D173 (23’)
JANÁČEK String Quartet No.1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ (19’)
BRAHMS String Quartet No.1 in C minor, Op.51 No.1 (32’)

The four outstanding young musicians of the Leonkoro Quartet have already acquired an astonishing list of international prizes to their name. Last year’s awards included first prize at the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition, where they astonished both the jury and audience with their boundless energy and powerful musicality, and their appointment to the prestigious BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme.

For their Portsmouth debut, they’ll be performing a programme that tackles the profound drama of Janáček and Brahms, alongside the graceful lightness of a quartet composed by Schubert when he was still a teenager.

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.

SCHUBERT Franz, String Quartet in G minor, D173

Allegro con brio 
Andantino  
Menuetto. Allegro vivace 
Allegro 
 

Schubert’s sheer productivity in 1815, the year in which he turned 18 years of age, is nothing short of astonishing: over 150 songs, two symphonies, piano pieces, religious music and the present string quartet, written between 25 March and 1 April 1815, while Schubert was also working as an assistant teacher in his father’s school. According to a note in his own hand, the first movement was composed ‘in four and a half hours.’ There’s no mistaking the influences on the teenage Schubert in this music, particularly Beethoven’s Op.18 quartets and, above all, Mozart’s Symphony No.40.  

But far from being merely derivative or imitative, this quartet is a notable example of Schubert experimenting with quartet structures, and starting to find his way as an original genius. Schubert expert Brian Newbould has noted that ‘Schubert’s way of plucking … principles from the repertoire all around him in his teenage years … is part of a positive, learning, and properly creative purpose.’ Newbould goes on to write that in this quartet, we find ‘things here that represent the first stirrings of inclinations that were to come to fruition in later works.’ 

© Nigel Simeone 

JANÁČEK Leoš, String Quartet No.1 Kreutzer Sonata

Adagio – Con moto 
Con moto 
Con moto – Vivo – Andante 
Con moto – (Adagio) – Più mosso 
 

Janáček composed his 1st String Quartet in 1923, taking as his inspiration Kreutzer Sonata, the novella by Tolstoy that had in turn been inspired by Beethoven’s famous violin sonata. Janáček’s quartet was composed in just a few days, and it’s probable that he drew on material from an earlier piano trio (now lost) based on the same story. The music does not follow Tolstoy’s narrative in detail, but it does evoke the rage and passion of the protagonists, using a musical language made up of generally quite short motifs that form both the melodies and the urgent, thrilling ideas that accompany them. Janáček also alludes to Beethoven’s Kreutzer, most obviously at the start of the third movement where he recalls the second theme of Beethoven’s opening movement. Janáček’s own motto theme in the Quartet is the rising idea heard at the opening. This returns at the start of the fourth movement, but this time it is followed by a melancholy violin theme, marked ‘as if in tears’. Janáček’s final transformation of the motto theme is magnificent: a furious fortissimo, accompanied by chords marked ‘festive, like an organ’. After this ecstatic moment of release, the music subsides back to the brooding, unsettled mood of the opening. 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

BRAHMS Johannes, String Quartet in C minor Op.51 No.1

Allegro
Romanze. Poco adagio
Allegretto molto moderato e comodo
Allegro

The string quartet was a form that gave Brahms a great deal of trouble and the masterpieces of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven meant that Brahms was especially critical of his efforts at quartet writing. The C minor Quartet was finished in the mid-1860s, but Brahms revised it extensively over the next decade and re-wrote it during the summer of 1873. The first performance took place in Vienna in December 1873 by the Hellmesberger Quartet. The work is dedicated to Brahms’s friend Theodor Billroth, one of the most innovative surgeons of his time and a keen amateur musician. There’s a very close relationship between the main themes in each of the four movements, each of which grow from the same basic idea, and the overall structure sees two intimate miniatures framed by the more symphonic outer movements.

Nigel Simeone ©2014

“The Leonkoros draw on a wealth of youthful sonority, fiery vitality and rousing drive.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung

HAYDN, BORODIN & BEETHOVEN QUARTETS

Esme Quartet

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 22 May 2023, 7.30pm

Tickets
£10 – £20

Past Event

HAYDN Quartet in D Op.71 No.2
BEETHOVEN Quartet in B flat Op.18 No.6
BORODIN Quartet No.2 in D

The Esme played once before in Portsmouth, in October 2019, after winning the Wigmore Hall competition the previous year.

Originally from South Korea, they are based in Germany and have already established themselves as one of the most exciting quartets in the world. Korngold is now best known for his Hollywood film scores, but as a young man he was warmly praised by figures such as Mahler and Strauss. By 1935, however, when this second quartet was composed, ‘romantic’ music had fallen out of fashion and he struggled to be taken seriously by the musical establishment.

HAYDN & BEETHOVEN STRING QUARTETS

Arcadia Quartet

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 20 March 2023, 7.30pm

Tickets
£10 – £20

Past Event

HAYDN Quartet in B-flat Op.33 No.4
WEINBERG String Quartet No.6 Op.35
BEETHOVEN Quartet in F Op.59 No.1

We were due to host the Romanian-based Arcadia Quartet in March 2021 before the continuing disruption caused by the pandemic intervened, and so we will finally get to hear them exactly two years later.

They won the Wigmore Hall competition in 2012, and then five years later produced a remarkable set of recordings of the Bartók quartets which led to their invitation to Portsmouth. A more recent recording project is the complete cycle of 17 quartets by Mieczysław Weinberg, a close friend of Shostakovich who deserves to be far better known.

HAYDN Joseph, Quartet in B flat Op.33 No.4

Allegro moderato
Scherzo. Allegretto – Minore
Largo
Presto

 

Haydn’s Opus 33 quartets, also known as the “Russian” quartets, are a collection of six string quartets composed in 1781. These works represent a significant milestone in the development of the string quartet as a genre, and they are widely regarded as Haydn’s finest compositions.

 

This quartet in B flat major opens with a vibrant and exuberant Allegro moderato showcasing Haydn’s signature humour and wit, with playful exchanges between the four instruments. The Scherzo is a lively and rhythmic dance that is full of energy and syncopation. The Adagio is a poignant and expressive, aria-like movement that showcases Haydn’s gift for melody and his ability to evoke deep emotion through music. The quartet concludes with a dazzling and virtuosic finale, that brings the work to an exhilarating conclusion. Throughout the quartet, Haydn’s use of form and inventive musical ideas play with tonality, harmonic structure and texture to create a rich and complex musical tapestry. The quartet is marked by surprise, unexpected turns, and humour, while maintaining a sense of coherence and unity. Haydn’s Opus 33 No.4 is a landmark in the development of the genre: a work of great beauty, depth, and complexity.

 

© Nigel Simeone

WEINBERG Mieczysław, String Quartet Op.6 No.35

Allegro semplice
Presto agitato
Allegro con fuoco
Adagio
Moderato commodo
Andante maestoso

 

Weinberg’s String Quartet No. 6 is a powerful and deeply expressive work that showcases the composer’s distinctive voice. Weinberg was a Polish-Jewish composer who spent much of his career in the Soviet Union, and his music reflects both the rich cultural heritage of his homeland and the tumultuous times in which he lived. Composed in 1946, this quartet is one of Weinberg’s most accomplished works in the genre.

 

A powerful work consisting of six movements, it opens with forceful and energetic driving rhythms followed by a frenzied and virtuosic movement, with rapid, intricate passages. The soaring melodies of the fiery and intense third movement contain dramatic changes in tempo and dynamics which give way to the Adagio, an expressive and introspective movement marked by a lyrical and mournful melody passed between the instruments of the quartet. The fifth movement is more lighthearted and whimsical, before the final Andante maestoso, which brings the work to a triumphant, majestic conclusion.

 

© Nigel Simeone

BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, Quartet in F, Op.59 No.1

Allegro
Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando
Adagio molto e mesto –
Thème Russe. Allegro
The first of Beethoven’s three quartets written for Prince Rasumovsky was composed in 1806 and performed the next year. It marks a departure from the Op.18 set in several respects, one of which is its sheer scale: like the “Eroica” Symphony (1804–5) it shows Beethoven expanding the possibilities of the form to produce something on an epic scale while retaining the essential intimacy of a string quartet.
The first movement is introduced by a cello theme which Lewis Lockwood describes as “opening up a musical space of seemingly unbounded lyricism and breadth.” The Scherzo, in B flat major, is an unsual movement: while it has no distinct Trio section, it is also Beethoven’s longest Scherzo to date, even though Beethoven removed a large repeat while revising the work. The slow movement has the unusual marking mesto – “mournful” – and is cast in the tragic key of F minor. It ends on a trill that leads seamlessly into the finale. This is based on a Russian theme – a charming and appropriate choice since Rasumovsky was the Russian Ambassador to Vienna at the time.

 

© Nigel Simeone

HAYDN, BEETHOVEN & MENDELSSOHN

Leonore Piano Trio

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 17 April 2023, 7.30pm

Full price ticket £20
Concessions £18
Under 25s £10

Past Event

The Leonore Trio was formed ten years ago and rapidly established itself as one of the pre-eminent piano trios in the world.

They are highly committed to new music, and this piece by Huw Watkins will receive its world premiere in the autumn of 2022. Haydn’s trio in the unusual key of F-sharp minor is a wonderful late work. Mendelssohn’s first published trio is arguably his finest chamber work, symphonic in nature in four beautifully worked-out movements.

HAYDN Piano Trio in F-sharp minor, Hob. XV/26,
BEETHOVEN Piano Trio in E-flat, Op.1 No.1
MENDELSSOHN Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49

Please note, due to illness, Benjamin Nabarro is unable to appear and Lucy Gould has kindly agreed to step in. This has necessitated a change in programme. Thank you for your understanding and apologies for any disappointment.

HAYDN Joseph, Piano Trio in F sharp minor, Hob XV:26

Allegro
Adagio cantabile
Finale. Tempo di Menuetto

This trio was the last of three new works composed for the pianist Rebecca Schroeter during Haydn’s visit to London in 1794–5 for the first performances of the last six of his ‘London’ Symphonies. The second of this, with its ‘Gypsy’ Rondo, is probably Haydn’s best-known trio, but the present work, in F sharp minor, is much more elusive and subtle, though the wistful mood of the opening is soon changed by a move towards major keys and increasing animation in the piano part. The slow movement – in the very unusual key for the time of F sharp major – is a reworking of the F major slow movement of Haydn’s Symphony No.102. In the symphony this is headed ‘In Nomine Domini’ (In the Name of the Lord) – a reminder of the religious inspiration of some of Haydn’s secular works. The finale is unusual: a rather stately Minuet in F sharp minor, with a contrasting central section in F sharp major. The close is dramatic and rather austere.

© Nigel Simeone

BEETHOVEN Ludwig van, Piano Trio in E flat Op.1 No.1

Allegro
Adagio cantabile
Scherzo. Allegro assai
Finale. Presto

Beethoven’s first piano trio – his Op.1 No.1 – was composed at almost exactly the same time as Haydn’s A major Trio. It was first performed at a private concert in Vienna in 1794 at the house of Prince Karl von Lichnowsky, to whom the whole set of three trios Op.1 was dedicated. This private concert turned out to be an extremely important event in Beethoven’s early career: the audience included many of the great and good of Viennese musical life, including Beethoven’s teacher Haydn. According the Ferdinand Ries, in his biographical sketch of Beethoven published in 1838, ‘The three trios by Beethoven were to be played to the artistic world for the first time at a soirée held at Prince Lichnowksy’s. Most artists and music lovers had been invited, in particular Haydn, whose pronouncement was eagerly awaited by all. The trios were played and caused a great stir. Even Haydn said many nice things about them.’ A year later the Viennese publisher Artaria put out an announcement for the first publication of the set: ‘Subscription for Ludwig van Beethoven’s Three Grand Trios for Pianoforte, Violin and Bass, which Artaria will engrave and publish within the next 6 weeks, and which, if previously indicated, can be purchased from the composer on handing back the [subscription] bill. The price of a complete copy is 1 ducat. The subscribers’ names will be printed at the beginning and they will have the advantage that this work is only available to others two months later, maybe even at a higher price. In Vienna subscriptions can be bought from the composer … in Kreuzgasse no. 35 behind the Minoriten Church on the first floor.’ The list of subscribers reads like a Who’s Who of Viennese patrons – and many of them were to play a crucial role in Beethoven’s subsequent career, including Count Appony (who first suggested to Beethoven that he should write a string quartet) Countess Anna Maria Erdödy (dedicatee of the two piano trios Op.70 and the cello sonatas Op.102), Prince Lobkowitz (dedicatee of both the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies), Count Rasumovsky (the Russian Ambassador in Vienna and dedicatee of the three String Quartets Op.59) and Prince Lichnowsky, to whom Beethoven dedicated his Op.1 and in whose home the pieces had first been played. The subscribers’ list shows that he ordered no fewer than 20 copies of the Op.1 Trios, a remarkable vote of confidence for the young composer.

© Nigel Simeone

MENDELSSOHN Felix, Piano Trio No.1 in D minor

Molto allegro ed agitato
Andante con moto tranquillo
Scherzo. Leggiero e vivace
Finale. Allegro assai appassionato

Mendelssohn’s First Piano Trio was started in February 1839, but it was not until the summer that he got down to serious work (on the autograph manuscript the first movement is dated ‘6 June 1839’ and the last ’18 July 1839’), and he put the finishing touches to it in September. It was a busy year for Mendelssohn, not only as a composer but also as a conductor: on 21 March he conducted the world première of Schubert’s ‘Great’ C major Symphony.

The first performance of Mendelssohn’s D minor Trio took place in the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 1 February 1840, played by Mendelssohn himself with the violinist Ferdinand David and cellist Carl Wittmann. Robert Schumann’s review in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik was ecstatic: he hailed Mendelssohn as ‘the Mozart of the nineteenth century’ and ‘the most brilliant of modern musicians.’ High praise indeed, but fully justified by a work that has a brooding passion that is at once very much of its time but also harks back to the Mozart of the Don Giovanni Overture and to the D minor Piano Concerto (K466) – a work which Mendelssohn performed on a number of occasions and for which he composed cadenzas. The Mendelssohn scholar Larry Todd has echoed Schumann’s view, describing the work as ‘a masterful trio with subtle relationships between the movements, and a psychological curve that incorporates the agitated brooding of the first, subdued introspection of the second and the playful frivolity of the third. The finale combines all three moods, before reconciling them in the celebratory D-major ending.’

© Nigel Simeone

BEETHOVEN, BERWALD & MOZART

Ensemble 360

The Guildhall, Portsmouth
Monday 30 January 2023, 7.30pm

Tickets £10 – £20

Past Event

BERWALD Grand Septet in B-flat (25′)
MOZART Clarinet Quintet in A K581 (35′)
BEETHOVEN Septet in E-flat, Op.20 (40′)

An evening featuring three celebrated works of chamber music, all on a larger scale.

Beethoven’s Septet was his most popular work; an inventive, celebratory piece, full of youthful energy and generosity of spirit, punctuated by fanfares, solos, cadenzas and exuberant fireworks! The evening begins with a Romantic septet, inspired by Beethoven, and written by his Swedish younger contemporary, Berwald; Mozart’s sublime Clarinet Quintet follows.

BERWALD Franz, Grand Septet in B flat

Adagio
Allegro molto
Poco adagio
Prestissimo
Poco adagio
Finale: Allegro con spirito

 

The influence and popularity of Beethoven’s Septet spread across Europe and the work was regularly performed in Berwald’s native city of Stockholm. Now widely regarded as the most important Swedish composer of the nineteenth century, during his lifetime Berwald was seldom able to earn a living from his music, working instead as a successful physiotherapist and, later, manager of a glass works. None of this should lead us to underestimate either Berwald’s creative talent or his imaginative handling of musical form. Both are apparent in this Septet. Completed in 1828, it may have been a reworking of an earlier piece for the same forces. Even so, it is a relatively early work, composed two decades before his best-known pieces such as the Symphonie sérieuse and Symphonie singulière. The musical language is consistently appealing, owing something to contemporary opera and to composers such as Spohr, but the melodies and harmonies have an idiosyncratic character that is entirely Berwald’s own (as at the start of the Allegro molto in the first movement, or the opening of the finale). In terms of the Septet’s design, the most striking innovation comes in the second movement which has a very quick Scherzo embedded within a seemingly conventional slow movement.

MOZART Wolfgang Amadeus, Clarinet Quintet in A K581

Allegro 
Larghetto 
Menuetto 
Allegretto con variazioni  

The Clarinet Quintet was completed on 29 September 1789 and written for Mozart’s friend Anton Stadler (1753–1812). The first performance took place a few months later at a concert in Vienna’s Burgtheater on 22 December 1789, with Stadler as the soloist in a programme where the premiere of the Clarinet Quintet was a musical interlude, sandwiched between the two parts of Vincenzo Righini’s cantata The Birth of Apollo, performed by “more than 180 persons.” 

From the start, Mozart is at his most daringly beautiful: the luxuriant voicing of the opening string chords provides a sensuously atmospheric musical springboard for the clarinet’s opening flourish. The rich sonority of the Clarinet Quintet is quite unlike that of any other chamber music by Mozart, but it does have something in common with his opera Così fan tutte (premièred in January 1790), on which he was working at the same time. In particular, the slow movement of the quintet, with muted strings supporting the clarinet, has a quiet rapture that recalls the trio ‘Soave sia il vento’ (with muted strings, and prominent clarinet parts as well as voices) in Così. The finale of the Quintet is a Theme and Variations which begins with folk-like charm, then turns to more melancholy reflection before ending in a spirit of bucolic delight. 

Nigel Simeone © 2012