Review: Ardent Homage and Chromaticism

Extremely familiar sounds greeted a snail-pace inching, physical wreck entering the Crucible Theatre (yours truly, actually); the strains of the famous folk-style Russian song Kalinka expertly played on a horn somewhere close by in the building.

Well, the venue was in the throes of an extensive nine-day Russian/ Soviet music festival promoted by Music in the Round and anchored by the superbly skilled musicians of Ensemble 360 mainly in the Crucible Studio, the ultimate destination of two shuffling legs to hear five of them.

The pièce de résistance, almost inevitably, was the 20-year-old Rachmaninov’s deeply felt memorial homage to Tchaikovsky, his epic Trio Élégiaque No 2, a tremendously sonorous performance from Benjamin Nabarro: violin, Gemma Rosefield: cello, and Tim Horton: piano.

Small wonder the threesome now pursues a much-lauded separate life independent of Ensemble 360 as the Leonore Piano Trio. They were totally inside the music and executed it with a controlled abandonment that was irresistible.

The balance between three flawlessly tuned instruments – super interplay between Nabarro and Rosefield! – was well nigh impeccable, an occasionally overloud keyboard making its presence felt in Horton’s tireless, impassioned playing of the almost relentlessly virtuosic piano part.

(For those not aware, the sound dampening piano lid is never in evidence in the Studio as it obscures sight lines in the in-the-round venue).

The pianist was also the keyboard partner in two duos of around ten-minute duration, and equal to their often fiendish technical demands, from the pens of Marina Dranishnikova and Nikolai Roslavets who will not mean much, if anything to most.

To avoid repetition see: So, Who is Marina Dranishnikova? at

Her piece, Poème for oboe and piano in which flights of lyric beauty punctuate prevailing time-honoured, lovelorn Russian melancholy, is so skilfully wrought it’s difficult to believe it is the only thing she wrote.

Effectively, a Romantic work dating from the mid-20th century, Adrian Wilson triumphantly conquered the far from easy, complex oboe part with flowing intonation, expressive tonal beauty and rock-steady line.

The revolutionary Roslavets’s Viola Sonata No 1, his first work entirely written to his New System of Tonal Organisation, a massively complicated deployment (or re-deployment!) of pitch, chords, rhythms, etc, that he insisted was a logical evolution of traditional harmony, is a much more thorny affair.

Similarly, like Dranishnikova’s piece, there are occasional passages of very traditional lyrical harmony (tunes even!) which emerge as oases in a sea of often acerbic chromaticism that flirts with atonality.

In his programme note, Nigel Simeone describes it as a “passionate and ardently chromatic work”, apt adjectives in summing up Ruth Gibson’s stunning, full-blooded account of work with everything, remarkably, sounding pitched given Roslavets’s thoughts on pitch, the main plank of his New System!

A pity not more people were in the audience to hear such technically assured viola playing of a work that may well benefit from repeated hearings, and the rest of a magnificently played concert, for that matter.

Footnote: Ever growing severe physical problems, compounded by a potentially more serious complaint over the last six months, has reduced already decreasing reviewing activity to virtually nil. There is a possible slight ray of optimism, but breath should definitely not be held!

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