Wellington Chamber Music attracts full house for its first post-Covid appearance at Sunday concert

Wellington Chamber Music

Vesa and Friends: horns and strings
Vesa-Matti Leppänen (violin), Andrew Thomson (violin and viola), Andrew Joyce (cello), Nicholas Hancox (viola), Samuel Jacobs and Ian Wildsmith (French horn)

Beethoven: String Trio in E-flat, Op 3
Mozart; Horn Quintet in E-flat K 407
Beethoven: Sextet in E-flat major Op 81b

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 12 July, 3 pm

The first in Wellington Chamber Music’s 2020 concert series attracted a near full house (though without the gallery open), for a programme that looked very attractive. Though, in the event, neither of the two Beethoven works would have been familiar to most.

How appropriate that the group’s first post-lock-down concert should be music by two of the world’s very greatest composers.

Throughout his earlier years Beethoven wrote several ‘miscellaneous’ chamber works. Some are familiar because they are so engaging, such as the Octet Op 103, reworked as a string quintet; and the Quintet for piano and winds; Op 16 probably inspired by Mozart’s Quintet K 452, for those instruments; and a Septet in E flat, Op 20 for strings and winds, which probably inspired Schubert’s Octet. Not forgetting the delightful Sextet, Op 71 is for winds alone. I used to have a cassette tape with some of these on it which was much played on car journeys years ago, alternating with Mozart’s Posthorn and the Haffner serenades; two young sons rarely complained.

Beethoven’s first string trio 
But neither of the Beethoven pieces this afternoon was quite as familiar or were in the class of Mozart’s wonderful Divertimento, K 563, which had been published the year Beethoven before wrote his Op 3. One knows the charming Serenade for string trio Op 8 and perhaps the three trios of Op 9, but I was surprised to realise I didn’t know Op 3.

Viola and cello seemed to lead the way at the beginning and indeed throughout the first movement, their weight seemed to dominate, which may have been produced mainly by Andrew Joyce’s particularly rich and warm instrument. It was not a matter of balance, but rather the fact that Beethoven provided music in which equality between the three was unusually conspicuous. The Andante was similarly democratically distributed among the three players; and again the rather low-lying, delicate, triple-time music created an unusually serious feeling. The Trio is in six movements, like the Mozart Divertimento, with two minuets separated by an Adagio. There’s a feeling of unusual uniformity of spirit in the work, even as the movements change tempo, sometimes key, and whether it’s a Menuetto or a gently paced Adagio.

Mozart’s horn quintet, K 407, was one of several remarkable pieces that he wrote for long-standing family friend, horn player Joseph Leutgeb. Instead of the conventional string quartet (plus Samuel Jacobs’ horn), the second violin is replaced by a second viola (Andrew Thomson), which naturally tended to subdue some exuberance. But the horn flourished in the church acoustic, perhaps rather too much at times, though that’s the result of our ears having been seduced by the engineered sound during the recording process: the normal imbalance is suppressed. The Andante, middle movement, was seductive, while the last, Allegro, revealed the nature of the challenges the Mozart threw at his friend (as he also did with the four horn concertos), such that even on a horn equipped with valves, and played by a superb executant, one could be rather filled with wonder – and delight.

Beethoven Sextet Op 81b 
Beethoven’s Sextet for string quartet and two horns (Jacobs of the NZSO and Orchestra Wellington principal horn, Shadley van Wyk), is also a somewhat less familiar work; it’s again in the key of E flat (a favourite for horn players). The sounds produced by the pair of horns was so enchanting in itself that their tendency to outpace the strings was hardly noticeable, and it was certainly a nice partnership. The pair of horns dominated the quietly lyrical slow movement too and again they demonstrated how a beautifully composed horn duet can rather capture the attention, though the in-between remarks by the strings seemed perfectly appropriate and they remained true to themselves.

So by the end, one could reflect that neither Mozart nor Beethoven had failed to recognise that way winds, and especially horns could enhance the delight that’s already plentiful with a plain string quartet.

Wellington Chamber Music can be well satisfied with their break-out from lock-down, both musically and with a numerous audience; and many, particularly Samuel Jacobs, introducing the Sextet, exclaimed at the delight of being at a real, excellent chamber music concert again.


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