Sunday at the Holywell Music Room saw the 30th Anniversary Coffee Concert, the brainchild chamber concert series of viola/violin player Chris Windass, also the co-founder of the Adderbury Ensemble, the group of N. Oxfordshire musicians who take their name from (and often play in the church at) the eponymous village nr. Banbury. Venue and ensemble are closely linked via dozens and dozens of performances over the years, so how fitting was it that these players should play on this day. Here they were joined by their close collaborator, pianist Viv McLean.
Mr Windass, a little redder in the face and more breathless from emotion than usual, gave a short address and then we were away into Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, in an 1881 arrangement for strings by the German composer Vinzenz Lachner. To my ear the piano score seemed identical to that in the full orchestral version. We heard a chamber arrangement of the 5th (Emperor) Concerto a few months ago, and its tremendous reception by the audience no doubt persuaded Mr Windass to move on to programme No. 4. The main question with these stripped-down chamber versions is the extent to which the wind and brass sections are missed. In the present case, I felt the loss less in the allegro and andante than in the concluding rondo where the vivaciousness inherent in the dance rhythms was slightly lacking in the oomph that these sections provide.
I was rather awkwardly placed in the hall in respect of the acoustic sound balance, and the piano came over as rather too percussive. I know from experience of this soloist that this is not Mr McLean's style at all. He is the most sympathetic of players in an ensemble, and also makes a compelling visual impression, leaning well forward over the keyboard almost to the point of brushing the keys, and directing constant, piercing glances at his colleagues. I'm sure that this latter characteristic goes beyond a personal choice of posture and contributes greatly to the cohesiveness of ensemble playing. Let's hope Mr Windass programmes a string version of each of the remaining three Beethoven piano concertos in the months to come.
The Mendelssohn Octet astonishes (a word reiterated in the programme notes and perfectly apt) by its sparkling invention and by the bare fact it was composed by a 16 year old. That an adolescent could turn out a work of such extended sophistication almost surpasses reason. Mike Wheeler in his ever-excellent notes suggests that this feat may even top the precociousness of Mozart's teenage years. Even someone like me who worships at the shrine of W A Mozart has to acknowledge, if grudgingly, the possible validity of this judgement. The Adderburys launched themselves at the music with brio, led energetically by David Lepage. From my seat the throbbing bass of Jub Davis came over perfectly, the floorboards under our feet vibrating slightly, even in the feather-touches of the butterfly-like andante. He and the rest of the ensemble convey such pleasure in their musicianship that how can an audience resist?
Onwards and upwards for the next 30 years!