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Chamber Ensemble ‘Musici Ireland’ at the National Concert Hall on 7 August 2014

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Up-and-coming chamber ensemble, ‘Musici Ireland’, open their concert series with a trio of delectable musical delights. This eclectic group boasts the collective talents of Bethan Watkeys (horn), Helena Wood (violin), Anita Vedres (violin), Beth McNinch (viola), Errika Collins(viola), and Grainne Hope (cello). Charles Villiers Standford’s Fantasy for Horn and String Quartet (1922) heads this afternoon’s programme. Described as “one of the hidden gems of late-Romantic chamber music” this dramatic work is slowly gaining recognition through its inclusion in the Irish concert repertoire. With its possible allusions to Mozart in its scoring, Stanford’s quintet illustrates his orchestral prowess for balancing such an interesting collage of instruments.

The introductory agitated rhythmic motif sets the scene for this charismatic work. From the onset, the horn and cello strike up a charming rapport as they establish the work’s central harmonic strand. The tempo here is well chosen, albeit slightly tentative. A unified expression of concentration among the players contributes to an inherently sophisticated sound. For the most part, each instrument maintains a secure balance of tone against the horn. However, there are moments when the music yearns for a more diverse depth of expression. Nonetheless, Stanford would be pleased with today’s interpretation.

Following an enthusiastic response from the audience of the John Field Room, the ensemble shifts to string quartet mode in preparation for their performance of Mozart’s fourth quartet. Written as part of the six Milanese Quartets (1772–1773), the players take to this piece with style and ease. Each instrument weaves seamlessly between melodic lines, with prudently matched articulation and phrasing. Here, Wood’s performance is particularly noteworthy, as her mastery of the violin shines throughout. Musici Ireland’s musical chemistry and combined technical prowess contributes to an intelligent and stylistically superb rendering of this string quartet.

Today’s concert concludes with Mozart’s Horn Quintet (c. 1782). Originally written for the Austrian horn player Joseph Leutgeb, this work toys with the standard quartet layout by using 1 violin, 2 violas and a cello. The result is a rather beautiful mellow sonority when combined with the tonal capacities of the horn. Watkey’s playing is inviting as she handles the complexities of Mozart’s music with confidence. Her pitching is mostly solid against the sultry temperature of the room. The predominantly male dominated audience rewards the ensemble with joyous appreciation.

The play list for this concert reflects Musici Ireland’s diverse talents and musical capabilities. We look forward to their next venture.

PROGRAMME

Stanford: Fantasy for Horn Quintet in A minor
Mozart: String Quartet No. 4 in C major, K. 157
Mozart: Horn Quintet in E flat major, K. 407″

Review by Emer Nestor for Goldenplec