Instrumental Award Scheme ‘Showcase’ Concert

18 February 2010

Friday 12th February, West Road Concert Hall

Cambridge’s Instrumental Award Scheme aims to attract the most talented chamber musicians within the university. And the annual ‘showcase’ concert is the chance for some of the award holders to show off exactly why they are award holders. This year, performers included a wind quintet (the Ashton Quintet: Sebastian Armstrong, Bethan White, Joe Shiner, Nina Ashton, Stephen Craigen), a piano trio (Hanna Notte, David Foster, Rupert Compston), and a string quartet (the Eliot Quartet, see picture).

Opening the evening was music by Ligeti (1923-2006), a Hungarian-born Jew who is widely regarded as a contemporary, avant-garde composer. The wind quintet performed his Six Bagatelles in a communicative manner, demonstrating sensitive control over different tone-colours. The opening bagatelle finished humorously on a low note of the bassoon (Ashton), which appeared suddenly just as we expected the music to reach a closure. There was also frequent communication between the performers, especially in the third movement, when a seven-note figure passed around the entire quintet: though rhythmically challenging, they dovetailed individual entries with each other almost fluently.

Ravel’s Piano Trio provided a change of scene to the intense atmosphere in Ligeti’s bagatelles. Not only did the texture become noticeably thinner, but the stage arrangement also represented a sense of intimacy between the performers. Notte and Foster played directly facing each other rather than the audience. This visual disengagement did not come across as less communicative than the quintet, but both players had to work harder, particularly on quieter passages, in order to ensure sufficient projection of their instruments within the concert hall.

The Eliot Quartet brought the evening to a close with Mozart’s well-known ‘Dissonance’ String Quartet, a piece that owes its nickname to a series of striking, deliberate clashes at the beginning of the first movement. The slow movement was a particular success: the spirit of Mozart was cultivated in the elegant, expressive playing of Rachel Stroud (violin) and the atmosphere captured the audience. All performers displayed their highly assured technique and tackled idiomatic dialogues with poise and refinement.

The showcase provided a wonderful opportunity to hear chamber musicians of the highest calibre perform and this evening’s turnout was respectable for a Friday performance. Special mention goes to in particular the Eliot Quartet for their stunning translation of the Mozartean beauty. Altogether their attitudes were enthusiastic and engaging to both the music and the audience.

Daniel Tse

(Picture above: The Eliot Quartet. From left to right: Conrad Steel, Imogen Tedbury, Fra Rustumji, and Rachel Stroud)