Review: Brighton Chamber Ensemble in Chichester

Brighton Chamber Ensemble, Chichester Cathedral, Oct 10

This year’s Chichester Cathedral lunchtime concerts series autumn programme contains within it a mini Elgar Festival by way of what must be entirely due to different artists discretely deciding on him and Chichester thus temporarily taking on the role of Worcester. The order I placed for a disc of the Violin Sonata some weeks ago has been lost in transit, like others have, and is being re-sent. A suspicious mind might wonder if a courier serving the PO2 postcode isn’t building a library.

I’m in favour of one substantial work rather than a programme of vignettes and the Quintet in A minor, for piano and String Quartet, op. 84, is all of that. You don’t need massed resources to make a ‘big’ piece, as in the Beethoven sonatas, and this was ‘orchestral’ with the quartet often being a unit in itself rather than always four parts.

The Moderato-Allegro begins with a ‘creepy theme’, Rachel Ellis had told us, in woods haunted by Spanish witches. Elgar is sexier than he’s given credit for. An open air atmosphere tinged with some lingering chill leads towards the spirited ( ! ) allegro in which it’s not obvious if the piano or the quartet are leading the way in full spate before a return to stillness.

Adagio is what Elgar’s best at with his sentimentale deep feeling and the restrained grace has hints of Enigmatic nostalgia with Siriol Hugh-Jones’s cello prominent and rich until for those who think Elgar means the Malvern Hills, there they were. Ellie Blackshaw and Rachel’s violins passed the melodic part to Ros Hansent-Laurent’s mature viola, ‘maturity’ being very much what this music represents.

The third movement Andante carries on from where that left off but is soon more waltz-like in its Allegro with energy in the strings and acrobatics from Stephen Carroll-Turner’s piano. Some slower tempi lead to a sweeping, totally tutti end. It was an assured and impressive performance, still sounding great from a few rows further back from where I usually am due to traffic delays but I got lucky enough. I thought it was worthy of more sustained applause than there was. I hope Chichester isn’t starting to take such fine concerts for granted.

David Green

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