The intimate Crucible Studio was the perfect venue for an evening of music focussed on death, war and loss. The concert itself had been named ‘Fond Farewells’ – a title that fits Ravel’s playful Neo-classical suite Le Tombeau de Couperin rather better than it does Strauss’s torturous lament Metamorphosen.
The first half featured two works presented in less familiar forms. Le Tombeau de Couperin, originally written for piano and then orchestrated by the composer, was arranged for piano and winds. Metamorphosen, best known as a study for 23 strings, was presented here in its incarnation for string septet.
I was surprised by how well David Walter’s arrangement of the Ravel worked; it combined the clarity and simplicity of the piano original with the colour and power of the orchestral version. The Prélude was wonderfully light and airy, with the horn occasionally peeking out of the texture. The Forlane was even more interesting; the piano was used sparingly (often playing single notes) and the ending was surprisingly dissonant. The two final movements were dominated by Adrian Wilson’s beautiful oboe playing – appropriately sweet and delicate in the Minuet, vibrant and exciting in the Rigaudon, which was taken at alarming speed.
Metamorphosen followed, and it was an incredible experience: sometimes morose, sometimes meditative, but always moving. With the musicians arranged in a circle, the close proximity of the audience and the acoustic of the venue resulted in a performance in which every nuance, motif, soaring melody, intricate counter-melody, and funereal double-bass pizzicato was heard clearly. The quality of the playing was flawless: beautifully balanced and tremendously expressive. It was the finest performance of Metamorphosen I have heard.
Inevitably, the second half could not quite compare. The Brahms Piano Quartet in C minor is a lovely work and it was performed excellently, particularly the Finale. It is the first half, however, that will live longest in the memory.