Pianist Ian Brown’s friends for the evening were the Pavlova Wind Quintet and the violinist Edmund Jones in an evening of delightfully eclectic music. The Pavlova Wind Quintet (Chris Britton on flute; Carolyn King on oboe; Barbara Stuart on clarinet; Jenny Morgan on horn and Simon Payne on bassoon) started the evening with Dix-sept Variations by the French composer Jean-Michel Damase. The piece starts with a traditional dance or march-like tune, but then the seventeen variations take the tune round and round and up and down, the tempo also varying dramatically. Each instrument has its moment in the spotlight, rising to a triumphant boisterous finale.
This was followed by Olivier Messiaen’s Theme and variations for violin and piano (with Ian Brown on piano and Edmund Jones on violin). The programme notes tell us that Messiaen dedicated the work to the violinist Claire Delbos whom he later married; the two of them premiered the piece a few months after their wedding. This piece would be a challenge to any marriage: the comparatively simple, understated beginning and end are in huge contrast to the wild variations in-between, 5 in all. Some piano parts seem to be present simply as an accompaniment to other instruments but in this piece the two instruments speak to each other on equal terms.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quintet for piano and winds Op 16 was written when he was still quite young and has many similarities to Mozart’s K452 but it already has the hallmark of Beethoven stamped on it. Not least, the piano is more dominant: in fact the notes say that Beethoven was in the habit of improvising while playing the piano part, much to the chagrin of the other players. Here the piano gives you the theme and then the other instruments (no flute this time) take it up and vary it in their own ways. The whole is a simply delightful half hour of soaring themes and melodic juxtaposition of instruments.
After the break, the haunting start to Franz Schubert’s Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen (dried flowers) for flute and piano, with Chris Britton from the Quintet joining Ian Brown. An unrequited lover has decided to die and is looking at the faded flowers once given to him which will end up on his grave. Strangely, the music then becomes more cheerful as he drifts into imagining being loved in return. The piece is demanding for both pianist and flautist, and is a very beautiful piece.
In contrast, Ludwig Thuille wrote his sextet for piano and winds, Op 6, in 1889 at a time when chamber music was out of fashion, yet it was an instant success. The piece seems at first to be quite conventional but as the four movements progress, and the different instruments wax and wane, it places itself fair and square in its period.The evening was well designed to show the considerable talents of all the musicians, individually and together. The Pavlova Quintet is a local group of musicians: their upcoming concerts can be seen on their website, the next one being in Cumnor on Saturday 2nd September. Ian Brown is multi-talented: he is a conductor as well as playing the piano and has the reputation for playing a wide range of musical styles. Edmund Jones leads the orchestra for the Oxford Proms concerts: the last one of this year is next Saturday at the University Church and features the Jocelyn Freeman. We are lucky to have a series like this.