Review: 28th April 2022 – New London Chamber Ensemble: Wind Quintet with Michael Dussek

For the final concert of the season we were delighted to welcome back the New London Chamber Ensemble, with Meyrick Alexander deputising for their regular bassoonist and Michael Dussek on piano. Although the NLCE has a commitment to, and passion for, new music, this concert focussed on known favourites, beginning with Beethoven’s Quintet in E flat.

It started with the bold contrasts typical of Beethoven – forte wind chords alternating with gentle answering phrases. The piano introduced both subjects, answered each time by the clarinet, and as the movement developed all the instruments came to the fore individually and together. The lyrical second movement offered solos for all the wind instruments as well as lovely passages with piano accompaniment. The final rondo was in a jolly 6/8 with long beautifully played semiquaver runs on the piano and attractive intermingling of all the wind lines.

As Michael Dussek remarked, Neilsen’s Wind Quintet which followed has moods which, like the weather over Denmark’s flat scenery, “seem to come from afar”. He also mentioned the thematic connections with Neilsen’s 3rd Symphony. The music was often quite spare and exhibited Neilsen’s quirky harmonic language. A pastoral and lyrical first movement was followed by a light neo-classical minuet and a contrasting sonorous trio. The final movement opened with a plaintive introduction on the Cor Anglais followed by a chorale theme – a hymn tune that Nielsen had composed previously – and 11 variations, which were full of interest and gave all the instrumentalists a chance to shine in many different ways. The hymn tune chorale returned to bring the work to a settled close.

Francis Poulenc’s Flute Sonata is a great favourite, and was performed with great panache by Robert Manasse and Michael Dussek. It displays a wonderful range of flute timbres and techniques and is full of rapid changes of mood and gorgeous harmonies. It is in three movements – fast, slow and very fast indeed, ending with a flourish, and was a delight throughout.

Finally we heard Mozart’s Quintet in E flat, written for the same forces as Beethoven’s but 13 years earlier. It includes brilliant work for the piano, but all of the instruments play their full part. The programme note reminded us that in Mozart’s time wind instruments could only play relatively short phrases, so Mozart inventively passes melodic lines from one to another. Less extreme in its contrasts than Beethoven’s, this delightful Quintet brought the LCME’s fine concert to a very satisfying end.