The Oxford Chamber Music Society’s offering on Sunday was the Pixels Ensemble.This is a group of talented musicians gathered by pianist and artistic director Ian Buckle who play together in different formats for different occasions.For this concert we were lucky enough to have Fiona Fulton on the flute, Sophie Rosa on the violin, Vicci Wardman on the viola, Jonathan Aasgaard on the cello, Hugh Webb on the harp as well as Ian Buckle himself on the piano.
Much of the music was Debussy: sonatas written in 1915 at a time of great anguish for the composer. Debussy and his family were in
The 11-minute-long Sonata for Cello and Piano starts slowly and gently but the second movement lives up to its working title Pierrot fâché avec la lune – jerky notes bounce back and forth between piano and cello as if the puppet is being jerked by a capricious child.The third movement starts slowly again but ends on a defiant note.
The somewhat longer Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp starts gently and lyrically too.Perhaps a pastoral idyll is to be imagined here – certainly the music has similarities to Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un Faune.Debussy himself said of this piece, 'It belongs to that era when I still knew something about music,' acknowledging himself that it harks back to a former period in his life. He added, 'It’s terribly sad and I don’t know whether one should laugh at it or cry!Perhaps both?' The middle section is in minuet tempo before the finale mixes lyrical with lively to end an extraordinarily beautiful piece of music.
Jean Françaix’s 10-minute Quintet for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello and Harp starts in the same vein, peaceful and soothing: this first movement, however, is in sharp contrast to the ones that follow where notes leap from instrument to instrument in a light frolicking motion.
Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano is equally volatile and we were treated to a virtuoso performance of it by Fiona Fulton and Ian Buckle.At times the music was reminiscent of a gypsy fiddler and the mood is often melancholic, but the sonata finishes on an upbeat G major.
There were two pieces by Mozart in the programme as well.The first, his Quartet for Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello, was written as part of a lucrative commission: otherwise this wonderful light piece may never have been written as Mozart hated writing for the flute: 'I become quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument I cannot bear.' It is a piece often heard on recordings as part of a collection of Mozart sonatas, but listening to it live and watching the interplay of the four instruments was a real treat:in the second movement the flute soaring high above the plucked harp is exquisite.
The last quartet of the day, Mozart’s Quartet for Piano, violin, viola and cello in G minor was poorly received when it first appeared.He was advised to ‘write more popularly’ or not at all, to which Mozart wrote, ‘Then I will write nothing more.’ Fortunately, he continued writing, including a second piano quartet the next year, both pieces considered to be among his best chamber works.It is hard to imagine this piece of exquisite beauty being unacceptable to the public.
The Oxford Chamber Music Society have three more concerts this in the next couple of months: they attract world-class artists and are highly recommended.