Classical review: The nash ensemble, Queen’s hall, edinburgh

MANY chamber groups whose members don’t play together permanently have trouble finding a convincing corporate sound. But as the London-based Nash Ensemble players demonstrated in this concert, they manage to retain their individual voices while merging in a radiant tone that combines impeccable technical assurance with a versatile musicality.

They breathed as one in their supple reading of the sunny A Major Piano Quintet by Dvorák that finished the programme, bringing the piece’s almost orchestral textures to vivid life with often breathtaking energy.

Cellist Paul Watkins stood out for the effortless simplicity of his opening melody, and for his gently swelling tone in the quizzical slow movement, based on a lament from the composer’s Czech homeland.

The autumnal colours of Brahms’s Horn Trio were perhaps a touch too subdued, though, and the performance could have done with some of the sheer élan that characterised the Dvorák. But violinist Stephanie Gonley had just the right burnished sound for Brahms’s rich harmonies, and pianist Ian Brown played with a sparkling brilliance that could subside into glowing mellowness.

But it was horn player Richard Watkins who really stole the show, both in the Brahms Trio and in the arresting 2007 Horn Quintet by leading Scottish composer James MacMillan, who was there to introduce his work.

Watkins’ heartfelt playing and remarkable ability to shape a melody put him firmly in the spotlight, and when he rose from his seat to walk into the audience at the quintet’s solemn conclusion, it only added a theatrical note to what was already a hugely dramatic performance.

Rating: ****

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DAVID KETTLE