Amici Ensemble in fine performances at Waikanae

The Amici Ensemble (Donald Armstrong and Cristina Vaszilcsin, violins; Julia Joyce, viola; Rowan Prior, cello; Diedre Irons, piano)
(Waikanae Music Society)

Enescu: Sérénade Lointaine (trio for piano, violin and cello)
Mahler: Piano quartet in A minor
Mozart: Piano quartet in G minor, K.478 (allegro; andante; rondo)
Brahms: Piano quintet in F minor, Op.34 (allegro non troppo; andante, un poco adagio; scherzo: allegro; finale: poco sostenuto, allegro non troppo)

Waikanae Memorial Hall

23 September 2012, 2.30pm

An interesting programme performed by fine musicians is always an attraction – even on a gorgeously sunny, warm day in spring.

The Amici Ensemble is a variable feast, under the leadership of Donald Armstrong.  This time it comprised a piano quintet, but the music played varied from three-strong, through four-strong to five-strong (no pun intended, Donald!)

George Enescu’s brief Serenade was a tuneful work, well worth an airing, while the other shorter work, Mahler’s quartet, was a surprise in that it was little like Mahler’s later music.  Nonetheless, it was a very attractive work, Schubertian in parts.  It was written when Mahler was 16 to 18 years of age, and is incomplete.

The Mozart piano quartet chosen, one of only two the composer wrote, was a familiar work.  As the programme note stated, ‘here the piano takes an equal role rather being simply a continuo instrument discreetly backing the strings.’  This gave full rein to Diedre Irons’s pianistic abilities; her performance was bright and lively.  However, some inaccuracies in the lower register, and a general lack of sparkle in the strings meant the quartet had less impact than it should have.

After the interval, Brahms’s monumental quintet.  It features an exciting opening, followed by lovely contrasts, with plenty of power.  All the instruments displayed marvellous sonorities.  Again, there were a few inaccuracies – not severe, but too many.  Phrasing was beautifully done.  A slow passage in the first movement produced attractive timbres.  As usual, in this quintet Brahms extracts the maximum from his material.

The second movement is serene, but with plenty of melodic and harmonic interest, and dense textures at times.  The scherzo has a spooky start, before the grand march commences.  The movement becomes tempestuous with the fugato; the tone of the instruments was not always coherent.

The finale features another quiet opening leading up to a dramatic sequence of syncopated entries for the strings.  A gypsy melody begins on cello, then is taken up the other players.  Many contrasted passages in a powerful development are solemn and tension-filled.  There is passion towards the end, then a tragically gentle mood before a robust finish.

A well-filled hall appreciated the playing of an interesting and satisfying chamber music programme from the players, who are all, apart from Diedre Irons, members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.


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