REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Daniel Lebhardt, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York

Daniel Lebhardt: “Particular empathy with Bartók”

British Music Society of York: Daniel Lebhardt, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, December 1

FEW pianists are able successfully to combine both accompaniment and solo work. But less than a week after he had appeared in a supporting role in Helmsley, Daniel Lebhardt was back in Yorkshire for this solo recital as part of the British Music Society of York’s 102nd season.

He opened with four ballades by Brahms, but thereafter interleaved Scriabin and Bartók with three Ligeti preludes. The ballades are a product of the composer’s early twenties and grouped in two pairs, the minor and major keys of D and B; they are mainly in three-part song form.

Lebhardt played them lovingly, concentrating on their melodies and keeping accompanimental figures in the background. Nowhere was this more successful than in the last, which was beautifully sustained.

We were to hear little of this approach in the rest of the programme. Ligeti’s 18 preludes are nowadays becoming de rigueur in piano recitals (two days earlier Danny Driver had included some here).

They are frequently volatile, often fast-moving, and a supreme test of virtuosity. Lebhardt was unlucky with No 6, Autumn In Warsaw, where he had a memory lapse that a re-start could not surmount, although we had sensed the falling leaves well enough. The prestissimo ending of No 15, White On White, given later, was thrilling.

The audience stayed on his side and he came back even more determined. So much so that he took out his anger on the ‘Drammatico’ opening of Scriabin’s Third Sonata, with exceptionally strong accents.

But he still managed to convey its ebb and flow. He had regained composure by the third, slow movement, which was gentle, bordering on sentimental. Fire was to return with a vengeance in the finale; it was to become a chorale by the end. He also made strong contrasts between high and low registers in Scriabin’s Vers la Flamme.

Born in Hungary, but now based in this country, Lebhardt showed a particular empathy with Bartók. The three Studies were wonderfully crisp; they must have acted as stimulants for Ligeti. The first was a whirlwind of close harmony, while in the second he brought out the theme with great clarity in the left hand. There was not much evidence of the ‘Rubato’ the composer marked in the third, but it was neatly structured nonetheless.

Bartók’s ‘Out Of Doors’ suite (Szabadban) had a special ring of truth. Lebhardt found the humour in ‘Musettes’ (although it needed to be a touch lighter), and ‘The Night’s Music’ was appropriately eerie.

‘The chase’ was highly percussive and riddled with cross-accents, in true Allegro Barbaro vein. Indeed, if there were a quibble about the second half, it would be that too much of the music was percussive, allowing the pianist’s lyricism little rein. But his virtuosity – with the one exception – was never in doubt.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on London Bridge Trio, British Music Society of York

London Bridge Trio: violinist Ben Hancox, pianist Daniel Tong and cellist Cara Berridge

British Music Society of York: London Bridge Trio, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 10

IT came as a surprise to find that the London Bridge Trio, renowned for its championing of English composers, is already into its third decade.

Its appearance for the British Music Society of York contained no English music, but a tasty combination of early Beethoven and late Fauré, with Schumann’s First Piano Trio for finale.

Beethoven’s first three trios – his first official opus – were his calling card as he summoned up the courage to journey to Vienna from his birthplace in Bonn at the age of 21. They did the trick and opened many doors for him.

Op 1 No 2 in D, full of variety, speaks of an imagination off the leash for the first time. There was at once clarity and spaciousness in the ensemble’s approach, a feel for the structure without obvious signposting.

The slow movement was measured, as the trio relished its improvisatory structure, while the scherzo with its offbeat accents made a lively contrast, calmed down only in its closing six-bar calando (simultaneous decrease in sound and speed). The mood of suppressed excitement in the finale burst into the open in the closing bars.

Fauré’s only piano trio, by contrast, was the work of a 78-year-old. Its ebb and flow was remarkably cogent here, as the ensemble – launched by the cello’s theme – sustained a steady momentum throughout the opening allegro.

The slow movement was meditative, its tempo leisurely, but eventually generating warmth from the central bleakness. The finale was the antithesis of this, using its syncopation and cross accents to build excitement.

Schumann’s Op 63 in D minor, the same key as the Fauré, got off to a boisterous start, with its dotted main motif especially forceful. Its jack-in-the-box scherzo was scarcely less emphatic, bursting with surprises, although the trio was a good deal smoother.

The elegiac violin opening to the slow movement, picked up by the cello, was gently touching. But its moodiness was at once dispelled by the sunshine of the finale, now in the major key, and the final acceleration was exhilarating.

The London Bridge is a well-balanced ensemble, its pianist Daniel Tong never dominating. It was a privilege to share its many insights.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Steven Osbourne, British Music Society of York

Steven Osbourne: “Intoxicating mix, with expectation rising as the recital progressed”. Picture: Benjamin Ealovega

British Music Society of York: Steven Osbourne, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, October 6

THE British Music Society of York launched its 102nd season in imperious style with one of the most consistently exciting pianists on the international circuit.

Having heard his duet partner Paul Lewis in this series last season, it was appropriate that the society should now welcome Steven Osborne.

In the build-up to Schubert’s penultimate sonata, D.959 in A major, he played the same composer’s Moments Musicaux, D.780, Schumann’s cycle Kinderszenen (Scenes From Childhood) and a Beethoven bagatelle.

It was an intoxicating mix, with expectation rising as the recital progressed. Schubert’s last three sonatas, all completed within the month of September 1828, merely two months before his death at the age of 31, are together generally considered his pianistic autobiography, covering the multi-coloured moods and styles of his approach to the instrument.

Osborne was exactly the chameleon required to reflect them. In the development section of the opening Allegro, perhaps the most volatile of all Schubert’s sonata movements, he was explosive, tinting his emotion with washes of serenity that led to a tear-jerking close.

In contrast, he emphasised the stark sparseness of the slow movement with a tempo that was closer to Adagio than the marked Andantino, only to deliver some frankly terrifying sforzandos at its stormy centre – all of which made the return to the opening all the more spellbinding.

Relief was needed and it came with a light and airy Scherzo, with an ideal balance between the hands as the melody switched locations; there was a cute rallentando when the Trio melted back into the Scherzo.

There was a magical charm, too, in the way the final Rondo’s excursions returned to the theme, teasing us exactly as Schubert intended, before a powerfully impassioned coda. It was a hectic ride, but Osborne’s virtuosity enabled him to weather its vicissitudes with immaculate control.

He had opened his second half with Beethoven’s Bagatelle, Op 33 No 4, not least because it was in the same key as the Schubert, which followed with barely a break. He kept it simple, revealing the composer’s skill at complementary accompaniment to the main melody.

In Schubert’s six Moments Musicaux at the start of the evening, he had been inclined to signpost the various moods a touch too strongly, rather than allowing the contrasting keys to speak for themselves.

But his ability to carry a line was never in doubt, and it was even more valuable in Kinderszenen that followed. Here he produced lovely inflexions in the melody of Traümerei (Dreaming) and was equally hypnotic when the child was falling asleep. Yet blind man’s buff was a playful moto perpetuo and the hobby-horse knight maintained a pompous canter. Like the rest of the programme, it was irresistibly vivid.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Albion Quartet,  Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York

Albion Quartet: Ann Beilby, left, Emma Parker, Nathaniel Boyd and Tamsin Waley-Cohen

Albion Quartet,  British Music Society of York, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, January 13

ALTHOUGH only in existence for six years, the Albion Quartet has already visited York and North Yorkshire at least four times. Once a slightly cautious, even nervy, group they have matured considerably over that period.

Their appearance here for the British Music Society was ample proof of their progress, with string quartets by Haydn and Dvorak framing a shining piece by Freya Waley-Cohen written only four years ago.

Starting with Haydn is not the piece of cake it may seem. Ensemble needs to be neat and phrasing exact. You cannot get away with anything, the way you might perhaps in a modern, more diffuse work.

His Op 33 No 5 in G has a stop-start scherzo that demands the utmost concentration from the players for its humour to succeed. The Albions were more than up for it: they despatched it with supreme confidence.

They had settled straight into the groove in the opening Vivace and there was a satisfying zest about the closing theme and variations. Only in the slow movement might the leader, Tamsin Waley-Cohen, have been a little less edgy in her cantabile.

Her younger sister Freya’s Dust was written in 2019 after the premature death of Oliver Knussen, who had been her composition teacher. But its three movements are far from merely elegiac. The first, ‘Charlotte’, sounded like fragments of Haydn heard from a distance, stuttering at first but settling into a strong momentum, with the main action in the first violin.

‘Serpent’ was more like a scherzo. Again, its brio brought Haydn to mind, with frenetic, rhythmically exciting activity, first in the upper three voices, then in the lower three. There was anger, too, in its splenetic accents, which finally dissipated and slowed to a halt.

If there was a lament, it came in ‘Dust’, the final movement, which was reflective, lingering nostalgically, with two brief violin cadenzas before the tessitura rose inexorably, spidery at first before disintegrating into the ether. Dust is constantly intriguing and deserves to enter the repertoire permanently.

Dvorak’s first completed work on returning to Bohemia in 1895 after three years in America was his G major string quartet, Op 106. The grateful aromas of his homeland are unmistakeable here. The Albion pointed the contrast nicely between the effervescent opening and its calmer second theme.

The acceleration out of the development section was keenly observed, with Bohemian melodies presaging the sheer excitement of the coda. The slow movement was imbued with serenity, which held good despite the tug-of-war with darker colours at its midst. After a taut scherzo, with its smoother trio, the finale was notable for the way the voices tossed around its main four-note motif.

The finale of Dvorak’s ‘American’ quartet made a lively – and generous – encore. The Albion’s new self-confidence now allows its intelligence to shine through. Its return to Ryedale in the summer festival is an exciting prospect.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Jeneba Kanneh-Mason, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, September 30

Jeneba Kanneh-Mason: “May take pride from her flying of the family flag”. Picture: John Davis

THERE are seven siblings in the prodigious Kanneh-Mason family, all of them musicians. I have heard only three of them, so I shall resist the temptation to make comparisons. But pianist Jeneba is No. 3 in the line-up and she is right up there.

A mixed bag that began with Bach and progressed through to Liszt at his most demanding opened the British Music Society of York’s 101st season.

She made a confident start in Bach’s C sharp major Prelude & Fugue, inner voices nicely differentiated, and changed mood immediately for Debussy’s three Estampes, written nearly two centuries later. There was graduated distancing of the magical bells in ‘Pagodes’, an insistent strum of habanera amid the fireworks in Granada, and very persistent, immaculately steady rain as backdrop to the child’s reverie.

Six years earlier than the Debussy, in 1897, Scriabin completed his Second Piano Sonata, in G sharp minor, subtitled ‘Sonate-fantasie’. It is a dark work, which was reflected in Kanneh-Mason’s strong left hand.

She delivered a grand, chorale-like sweep in the outer edges of the Andante, with remarkable variation in touch in between. The busy inner figurations of the presto held no terrors for her as she sustained a brilliantly menacing evocation of stormy seas.

She selected three from the 24 Negro Melodies composed in 1905 by the London-born Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose father hailed from Sierra Leone. For decades he was known almost solely by The Song Of Hiawatha, but at long last his other music (where is Hiawatha now?) is beginning to see the light of day again, not least through the ardent championship of the Kanneh-Mason family.

A defiant minor-key chorale, trombone-like, defined ‘At the Dawn of Day’ and there was more than a touch of plantation blues about ‘The Stones Are Very Hard’. Chopinesque harmonies infused the stately ‘Take Nabandji’. These were fleeting impressions only. Similarly understated was his Second Impromptu in B minor, inflected with sadness.

There was nothing in the least diffident, however, about her Liszt. The beautiful restraint of the introduction to Vallée d’Obermann only served to accentuate the orchestral tone she poured into its second half. A youthful boldness in her strongly-etched melody lines – allied, it almost goes without saying, to a formidable technique – made this an unalloyed joy.

If there was a touch too much rubato in the Second Hungarian Rhapsody, it certainly captured the spirit of the dance it enshrines. Jeneba may take pride from her flying of the family flag.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Martin Roscoe, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, March 18

Martin Roscoe: “Let’s his fingers do the talking. They are certainly eloquent

PIANISTS do not come much more deceptive than Martin Roscoe, who closed the British Music Society of York’s season with this recital of Schubert, Brahms and Liszt.

He goes against convention by using a score – no harm in that, especially if you consult it as little as he did. Having walked unassumingly to the keyboard, he plays without fuss or histrionics. In other words, he lets his fingers do the talking. They are certainly eloquent.

Although Schubert’s second set of impromptus, D.935, was not published until 11 years after his death, he had presented them as a foursome to his publisher (who, incredibly, rejected them). There is no suggestion that they are the movements of a sonata, but there is undeniably a feeling that they are related – for one thing, the first and fourth are in the same key, F minor. Certainly, I have never felt them to be so closely linked as they sounded here.

There was an understated elegance in Roscoe’s approach. He unfolded the opening Allegro moderato gently, melting smoothly from the minor to the major key and back again. There was a touch more emphasis in the second, marked Allegretto.

The ‘Rosamunde’ variations were beautifully contrasted: the three different voices in the second variation, for example, emerged with lovely clarity. The sense of impromptu, essentially improvisation, was kindled most keenly in the final dance, especially in the link to the return of the main theme.

The three Brahms intermezzi, Op 117, which are late, autumnal pieces, emerged as if they were the composer’s innermost thoughts, at once intimate and revealing. A lovely cantabile flow permeated the first, while it was the inner voices of the more sombre second that gleamed to the surface in turn. The syncopations of the third, which might have felt more restless, were not allowed to disrupt its serenity.

Petrarch’s Sonnet 104 finds the poet in a confused state over a burning love affair. Liszt’s reaction to it was first to set it as a song and then, more famously, to transcribe that into a piano piece, which appears in the Italian volume of his Years of Pilgrimage. Roscoe treated its harmonies tenderly, as if aware that the topic was sensitive, and it unfolded logically to its bitter-sweet close.

In both the remaining Liszt pieces, there must have been plenty of temptation to treat the piano as an orchestra; Liszt piles on the pressure relentlessly. Roscoe resisted. Isolde’s Love-Death, his transcription of the closing scene from Wagner’s Tristan Und Isolde, reached a passionate but controlled climax, with the lovers finally achieving satisfaction together after death.

Even more orchestral was St Francis’s triumphant walk on the waves, its rushing, stormy figurations not disrupting the relentless flow. Here we had the only out-and-out fortissimo of the evening. After that, a quiet Beethoven Bagatelle seemed the perfect antidote as encore. An evening of impeccable taste and considerable virtuosity.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Perpetuo Trio, British Music Society, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York, February 18

Perpetuo Trio pianist Libby Burgess

THE piano trio called Perpetuo brought Mozart and Mendelssohn to the British Music Society of York’s table, framing a piece by Cheryl Frances-Hoad written in 2005.

The Mozart was run-of-the-mill, the Mendelssohn invigorating, but Frances-Hoad’s ten-minute offering contained much more than its brief length might imply.

My Fleeting Angel was inspired by a Sylvia Plath short story, The Wishing Box, which deals with a married couple’s contrasting dreams. I confess that the story it purported to tell – music cannot describe, only evoke – passed me by, but made no difference to its pleasing effect.

It opened with string harmonics, which did not bode well, but the whirling piano soon shook the others into rhythmic life and all three continued in tight harness. The excitement eventually slowed right down, although the sense of a tonal centre continued.

The concluding Allegretto eleganza delivered an extended wind-up to an abrupt ending. It was a tantalising conclusion, begging the question “What next?”, but none the worse for that.

Cellist Cara Berridge

Mendelssohn’s First Piano Trio, Op 49 in D minor, written in 1839, was acclaimed by Schumann, no less, as “the master trio of our age”. It got off to an expressive start, although Cara Berridge might have made a little more of the cello’s sweeping theme. But all was forgiven in a recapitulation of immense excitement.

Apart from the passionate conversation at its centre, the song-like slow movement made a gentle contrast, with Libby Burgess’s piano setting the tone. It ended in a heavenly hush.

After a neat and light scherzo, which disappeared into the heavens – another trademark Mendelssohn touch – the violin of Jamie Campbell really came into its own in the spirited finale. With the piano cascading up and down, there was still time for a moment to draw in the listener when the strings resorted to pizzicato against the keyboard’s staccato. Best of all, balance remained excellent despite all the exuberance.

Mozart’s G major trio, K.496 of 1786 had not provided the best of starts. The opening Allegro was clear but uninvolving, with more than a touch of caution, and the slow movement was more languid than liquid. There was a certain amount of drama in the final set of variations. But Frances-Hoad livened things up and Mendelssohn did the rest.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Paul Lewis, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, January 14

Paul Lewis: ” A strain of melancholy threaded through the evening but the result was riveting”

PAUL Lewis is among Britain’s finest pianists. So to have him visit York at the invitation of the British Music Society – which is enjoying a bumper season – was a special privilege.

He presented two of Beethoven’s better-known sonatas, the ‘Pathétique’ and the ‘Appassionata’ (not names assigned by the composer), which framed a Debussy suite and Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy.

A strain of melancholy threaded through the evening but the result was riveting. The opening Grave of the ‘Pathétique’ was exceptionally spacious, with chord-resolutions delayed to the absolute maximum, so that the succeeding Allegro, taken at lightning pace, felt even quicker by contrast.

The accompanimental figures in the slow movement were rich and dark, which lent the main melody, beautifully sustained, an autumnal fireside warmth. In contrast, the rondo theme in the finale was surprisingly light and frisky at first, becoming progressively more urgent until its resolute last appearance, which recaptured the intensity of the very opening of the work.

Debussy’s Children Corner suite is not kiddies’ music, either for players or listeners. Lewis offered the pretence that it was, touching in the details of these character-pieces with a delicate brush while keeping their droll humour to the fore.

Jimbo’s clumsy lullaby, the doll’s clockwork serenade and a snowy white-out were but preludes to the loneliness of the little shepherd and the Golliwogg’s self- satisfied strut (with a moment of self-doubt thrown in). It was hard not to smile throughout.

Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy Op 61 in A flat. which dates from 1846, three years before he died, is one of the most forward-looking pieces he ever penned. It belonged next to Debussy in this programme exactly because it is so impressionistic.

Its dance element – the polonaise section of the title – only really becomes clear towards the end, after a considerable stretch of varying, improvisatory ramblings. Lewis excelled in differentiating its many changes of colour, where lesser pianists can get lost in its brambles. In his hands it became a ballade, often tinged with melancholy, with the third of its three main sections building persuasively into dramatic closure.

By now, Lewis’s adrenaline must really have been flowing: volatility was the name of his game in Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’, Op 57 in F minor. Where there was some cloudiness in the first movement’s bass line, its very detail endowed the central variations with a marvellous nobility, stoically underpinning the increasingly taxing decorations.

He preferred to gloss over the ‘ma non troppo’ (not too much) of the third movement’s Allegro – which added to its fearsome frenzy but left little acceleration in reserve for the closing Presto. No matter: it still became a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, daringly delivered.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on The Heath Quartet, British Music Society of York

The Heath Quartet, now led by violinist Marije Johnston, second from right

The Heath Quartet, British Music Society of York (BMS), Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, December 3

THE Heath Quartet last appeared in York exactly ten years ago. At that time, they were led by their founder, Oliver Heath. Then he decided to seek pastures new and Marije Johnston took his place.

What you would never guess from this performance is that that exchange took place a mere four months ago. Johnston’s pedigree as a chamber musician allowed her to slot seamlessly into place. Bear that in mind as you read on.

At first sight, the pairing of late Janáček and late Beethoven string quartets – played in that order – looks quirky, even fanciful. The works were written almost exactly 100 years apart, each within a year of the composer’s death. They formed the Heath Quartet’s sparkling, I dare even say memorable, programme for the BMS of York.

Janacek’s Second Quartet – known as ‘Intimate Letters’ and encapsulating the turbulent emotions of his more than 700 letters to Kamila Stösslová, his much younger muse in his final decade – has four movements but with constantly changing tempos in each.

The seven movements of Beethoven’s Op 131 in C sharp minor run into one another, making the work equally restless, if not more so. Near death they may have been, but each man was writing in the white heat of unbridled inspiration. The parallels are uncanny.

So the Janáček turned out to be a perfect intro into the Beethoven: they were men on the same kind of mission. The Heaths tuned into that immediately.

Apart from the cellist, who sat on a small plinth, the others stood to play, which allowed them freedom of movement. Johnston, playing second fiddle here, and viola player Gary Pomeroy took full advantage, swaying and bending ceaselessly. Sara Wolstenholme, leading, remained much calmer. But none of this affected their ensemble; they breathed, and played, as one.

The key player in the Janáček is the viola, who represents Kamila. Pomeroy did not disappoint. The work veers, sometimes wildly, between tension and lyricism and he skilfully spearheaded the latter.

Janáček’s yearnings welled up regularly, almost physically so in the slow second movement with palpitations and a devilish Ländler-style dance. The ebbs and flows of the third movement seemed to disintegrate into disillusionment in its adagio section, while the Dumka finale with its spine-tingling tremolos juxtaposed slow-moving melancholy with much livelier excitement. This was vivid musical autobiography, tellingly told.

In the Beethoven, the violinists changed places, so that Johnston now led. This symbolised just how closely all four players are integrated with one another. The piece marks a virtual renaissance of the 18th century divertimento, so diffuse is its layout.

The duos of the opening fugue were quietly menacing, but the succeeding Allegro was both playful and intimate; once again the Heaths were alive to sudden mood-changes. The central variations were delicately drawn.

The Presto, taken at a good clip, was treated like a scherzo, full of good humour and a lightness of touch we might expect in Mendelssohn. The finale’s two themes were beautifully contrasted, culminating in a ferociously determined final burst. Here, more than ever, we had the sense of theatre that infused the whole evening. This always was – and still is – a quartet worth travelling a long way to hear.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Sacconi Quartet & Tim Lowe, BMS York, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York, October 1

Sacconi Quartet’s Ben Hancox (violin), Robin Ashwell (cello), Hannah Dawson (violin) and Cara Berridge (cello): Performed Schubert’s incomparable String Quartet in C and York composer Nicola LeFanu’s newly commissioned Quartet, both a celebration and a reflection. Picture: Emilie Bailey

FORTUNE favours the brave. Back in May when the Covid outlook was far from clear, the British Music Society of York (BMS) took the courageous decision to go ahead with their 100th season in October. It had already been delayed a year.

This quintet – a string quartet with added cello – was the happy result, in a members-only evening last Friday.

Schubert’s incomparable String Quintet in C was preceded by the world premiere of an engaging new BMS commission for the same forces from Nicola LeFanu, one of the society’s two vice-presidents.

Titled simply Quintet and lasting some 20 minutes, it lives up to the composer’s typically lucid programme-note as a combination of celebration and reflection, which are mirrored in two contrasting themes. The faster of these provides a rondo motif while the slower inspires its diversions.

The device works excellently. The two cellos generally operate as a pensive pair, while the higher strings interrupt, sometimes intensely, always excitedly, often preferring a catchy iambic rhythm when not adding twinkling filigrees. But all of the instruments have something individual to say.

At the centre of the work is a solemn chorale, after which the second cello has a broad, yearning passage – which Tim Lowe attacked with relish. This is the signal for mounting urgency that is capped by a return to the opening cello duet at the close. Did I detect here the semitone with which Schubert so determinedly ends his quintet?

Second cellist Tim Lowe: “The engine” in Schubert’s String Quartet in C

The Sacconi and Lowe brought fervent application to their task, clearly enjoying its challenge. The music makes real sense on a first hearing, but would also repay deeper listening. It certainly commends itself as a partner to the Schubert.

Any players faced with one of the towering monuments of Western music will feel humbled. This manifests itself in different ways. Here there was a studied intensity to the first two movements of the Schubert, before an earthier Scherzo and a finale infused with the spirit of dance.

The mood of anticipation in the introduction was satisfied when the Allegro got going, but the repeat of the exposition was much tauter (and rhythms wittier too) than its first statement.

Second cellist Lowe was the engine, as in several places later, for the development section. He also ignited more fire in the middle of the slow movement – although the pregnant rests that followed were a tutti effort, before the heart of the Adagio hovered beautifully again.

In the Scherzo, the ensemble really began to relax, so much so that its Trio almost ground to a halt, it was so leisurely. In the circumstances, the return of the Scherzo came almost as a relief. 

The finale, so often a let-down in this work, was anything but: there was even an element of mystery before the main theme returned. Doubt lingered as to whether all five players shared the same overall vision for this piece. But the BMS is back in business. Hurrah!

Review by Martin Dreyer