THE concept could hardly be faulted. The latest in the Hebrides Ensemble’s typically enterprising projects was a three-stop tour of a brief programme of clarinet quintets (there’s a similar tour of horn quintets next month).
Sneaking in a bit of contemporary music, the players sandwiched the little-known and rather enigmatic 1984 Clarinet Quintet No1 by South Korean composer Isang Yun between more familiar quintets by Howells and Brahms. They were all played with everything we’d expect from them – abundant skill, care and precision; a gloriously balanced, rounded sound; and a clear sense of conveying the meaning behind the music.
So why did it feel so curiously unsatisfying? Maybe because of the programme itself – all three pieces inhabited a similarly slow-moving, pensive sound world that seemed gloriously melancholy in the English pastoral idyll of the opening Howells Rhapsodic Quintet, but had grown rather ponderous by the end of the concluding Brahms Clarinet Quintet. And maybe also because of the players’ sometimes overly careful accounts. There was much to admire in their Brahms Quintet – not least their rich, colourful playing and supple sense of ensemble, with clarinettist Yann Ghiro weaving an expert course in among the string lines – but less to excite or inspire. Tempos felt on the slow side, and they seemed at pains to stress the introspection of the music rather than playing up its light and shade. It was a highly praiseworthy project, but the results could have done with a bit more bite
Seen on 03.03.15