Opera + Classical Music Reviews

The Nash Ensemble review – the piano stands centre stage at the Wigmore Hall

17 April 2023


Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall (Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

Mozart and Fauré form the focus of this lunchtime recital.

Although on the surface this concert from the Nash Ensemble appeared to feature a piano quintet and quartet, that was not strictly the case as the first piece was actually a concerto. Mozart composed his Piano Concerto in E flat K449 (1784) for keyboardist Barbara Ployer, but he described it as being for two violins, viola and bass, with ad libitum parts for oboes and horns. In other words, he took a pragmatic approach to scoring so that the piece could be performed irrespective of the resources available, and envisaged it being played by just a piano and string quartet. In fact, it seems likely that the premieres of the piece in its full orchestral form (by Mozart at his Akademie) and more compact version (with Ployer at the keyboard) took place just six days apart in 1784.   

From the outset, the Nash Ensemble’s style of playing felt highly suited to the piece. With the concerto beginning in 3/4, when the majority of Mozart’s have their first movement in 4/4, there is a nimbleness to the Allegro vivace that it captured perfectly. This is because, while its playing seemed quite rich and full, it was so well controlled that the output was extremely fleet footed. From pianist Alasdair Beatson’s first entry, he revealed a wonderful combination of litheness and clarity that saw him ‘take over’ in the most seamless manner since his sound felt so complementary to the strings, who could similarly ‘support’ him well. 

The Andantino that followed, with its long breathed phrases that it is all too easy to languish in excessively, was executed to perfection because the players always rendered them in a slightly understated way that simply enabled the movement to speak for itself. Then the closing Allegro ma non troppo saw all of the players bring the right levels of delicacy and panache to the proceedings to round off the concerto in suitable style.

“…the Nash Ensemble’s style of playing felt highly suited to the piece”

One of the strengths of the recital was its programming, and putting the Mozart alongside Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor Op. 15 (1876-89, rev. 1883) made for some highly effective contrasts. Although the Fauré requires quite different things from the players, it was noticeable how the ensemble could utilise its basic underlying strengths, albeit in quite different ways, to execute the piece. Fauré’s own distinct voice seems to be heard more and more as the work progresses, but the rousing, almost Brahms-like opening to the Allegro molto moderato was especially well played.

The pizzicato at the start of the Scherzo was also exquisitely managed, while the attention to detail throughout was extremely strong. This manifested itself in little things such as the way in which the string players captured the sense of responding to each other in their bow strokes at the end of the second movement, and how the pressure applied to each stroke was measured out to get exactly the right effect at the end of the Adagio. Fauré initially withheld his final movement from publication, after his friends expressed reservations following the first performance in 1880, but here his revised ending, which seems to show him applying his own very personal style to Romanticism, sealed a captivating hour from the Nash Ensemble.     

• This concert can be watched in HD until 15 July 2023. It was also broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, where it will be repeated at 13.00 on 23 April, and is currently available on BBC Sounds. 

• For details of all of the Nash Ensemble’s recordings and future events visit its website.

• For details of all upcoming events at the venue visit the Wigmore Hall website.


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