Francaix anniversary concert review in Haslemere Herald

Haslemere Herald Review - Virtuoso skill demonstrated in 'off-piste' performance

For the second concert of their current chamber music series, HHH Concerts ventured somewhat off-piste in presenting a wind and piano sextet comprising a group of talented young instrumentalists under the banner of the Waldegrave Ensemble, who have been playing together for some eight years.

The relative dearth of classical chamber music for an ensemble that includes flute, oboe, bassoon, horn and clarinet is testament to the problems composers face when seeking to bring together on an equal footing instruments of such different personalities and textures. When it works the result is often an emphasis on the satirical and quirky, and it is perhaps not surprising that several 20th century

French composers found the combination a congenial medium for music which, while being mostly melodic and in the classical tonal tradition, has a flippant twist which can give the listener an occasional aesthetic jolt.

The core of the Waldegrave’s programme in St Christopher’s Church, Haslemere, on Saturday, consisted of works by Ravel, Poulenc and Jean Francaix. The last of these, the 20th anniversary of whose death is being marked by the group in a series of concerts, was represented by two pieces, the first being L’Heure du Berger, composed in 1947, for wind quintet and piano. It was written in honour of a noted Parisian restaurant, and is especially memorable for the languid, almost sleazy middle movement, Pin-up Girls, which requires – and got – virtuoso performances from the clarinettist, Elliott DeVivo, and the horn player, Charles Hutchinson.

The second Francaix piece was a wind quintet full of Gallic wit and subtle changes of rhythm, in which the group were able to show off their exemplary ensemble playing. As the informative programme note observed, the final movement, French March, bore no resemblance to a march – not even a French one!

In Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, the Waldegrave found some exquisite tonal beauty in the lyrical passages. Especially noteworthy was the skill of the oboist, Philip Haworth, whose demanding part is constantly dominant in the score.

Finally we heard Poulenc’s Sextet for Winds and Piano, Op.100, a three movement piece of real substance. Here the addition of the piano part, brilliantly effected by Leo Nicholson, helped to weld the music into a more coherent whole. This was undoubtedly the high point of an intriguing and stimulating evening.

Tony Goldman
Haslemere Herald - 16th November 2017