Programme promises a feast of marvellous music

Tenor James Gilchrist
Tenor James Gilchrist

Work by more than 20 composers will be performed in nine days at the Music in the Round May Festival, reports Bernard Lee

AUSTRIAN, Hungarian and Bohemian music written between 1804 and 1945 makes up this year’s Music in the Round May Festival with the all-embracing title, Intimate Letters.

It comprises of 15 concerts devised by Ensemble 360 with its members playing in all but one of them and all but two of them at the Crucible Studio between May 6 and May 14.

The aforementioned parameters (on the cover of the festival brochure) are a little fluid on occasion, not that it matters when confronted with so much marvellous music penned by over 20 composers.

Czech composers dominate and not all are from Bohemia, one of the two major historic regions making up today’s Czech Republic, the other being Moravia which had its own music traditions.

Dvorák’s name crops most often, eight times with works that include his Op 87 piano quartet, Op 96 string quartet (the ‘American’), Op 65 and Op 90 (‘Dumky’) piano trios and Op 81 piano quintet.

Another, more resolutely nationalistic Bohemian, Smetana, weighs in with four works, including First String Quartet (From My Life), Piano Trio Op 15 and a Bartered Bride Overture arrangement.

There are also four works by the vastly undervalued Martinu: Nonet (penned 1959), Flute Trio, Oboe Quartet (1947) and the music (written for sextet) of his one-act jazz ballet Le Revue de Cusine.

Bohemian-born in 1890, Martinu left his homeland in 1923 and never returned, but despite his self-exile many of his 400-ish works have a Czech flavour often of the Moravian variety.

Determinedly Moravian, Janácek has three works to his name in the festival, which takes its title from one of them, Intimate Letters, the subtitle of his Second String Quartet.

The epistles in question are love letters (over 700 of them!) he sent over the last 11 years of his life to a married woman 37 years his younger, Kamila Stösslová.

The quartet’s performance here includes a semi-staged reading by Sheffield Theatres’ artistic director Daniel Evans of the letters in adaptations written by Paul Allen. Other works by Janácek are his very late Mládí (Youth) wind sextet and Concertino, a septet wind, strings and piano, while there could be a fourth, Pohádka (Fairy Tale) for cello and piano, if the Friends of MitR vote for it instead of works by Bartók and Liszt at one of the concerts.

Dvorák’s son-in-law Josef Suk has two works in the festival, Piano Quartet Op 1 and St Wenceslas Meditation for string quartet, which crops up in one of two concerts built round string music by five composers who were inmates of the Nazi transit camp of Terezín.

Two were Moravian-born, Pavel Haas (String Quartet No 3) and Gideon Klein (String Trio), and two Prague-born in Bohemia, Hans Krasa and Erwin Schulhoff, while Zikmund Schul was German-born but fled to the false safety of Prague. They all died in concentration camps.

The two concerts are part of a ‘Terezin Day’ curated by Gemma Rosefield with the Ensemble 360 cellist introducing both, one in conversation, and also includes a production on film of Krasa’s most famous work, a children’s opera, Brundibar. Moravian composer Pavel Vranicky, mainly active in Vienna as Wranitsky, gets his name into the festival as the arranger of Haydn’s Op 71 No 1 quartet for wind and string nonet, the Austrian composer’s Op 20 No 3 quartet (1772) also getting a performance in the form he wrote it in.

Mahler, Bohemian-born and domiciled for 15 years, gets a look in with his Piano Quartet – and some songs (read on) – and there are three works by Schubert: String Trio in B flat, his early Piano Trio in B flat and immortal String Quintet.

Other Austrian composers are Hummel – Septet Op 74; Zemlinsky – two works, including Clarinet Trio Op 3; and Johann Strauss – arrangements of three waltzes, the Emperor, Roses From the South and Wine, Women and Song!

The latter are part of two highly informal looking concerts in an Austro-Hungarian Empire away day (May 8) with food and drink, plus waltz and food workshops, in the City Hall Ballroom.

Which leads neatly to Hungary and Bartók with three works, Violin Sonata No 2, Contrasts for clarinet, violin and piano, and a selection from 44 Duos for two violins.

Also heard are Kodály’s Serenade for two violins and viola Op 12, Dohnányi’s Serenade for string trio op 10 and Sextet for strings, wind and piano Op 37, Liszt’s Grand Duo Concertant for violin and piano and Ligeti’s Trio for violin, horn and piano (1982) and Bagatelles for wind quintet (1953).

An additional Bartók (Romanian Folk Dances for violin and piano), or Liszt work (Vallée d’Obermann for piano trio), may be heard depending on the Friends’ vote alluded to above in the context of Janácek.

Highly noted tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook drop in for a Lieder recital book-ended by two song cycles, Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). Between them are five songs by Liszt, four of Schubert’s Goethe settings, four of Hugo Wolf’s Mörike settings and three songs from Mahler’s Das Knaben Wunderhorn.

A linked, late night festival concert (9.15pm) features the popular Moishe’s Bagel playing a fusion of East European and Middle East folk rhythms, said to have been influential on such as Bartók.

The band is in the area visiting Sheffield junior and special needs schools under the auspices of Music in the Community which hosts two events as part of the festival.

On the last Saturday, May 14, there is one of the popular Music Box workshops for three to six-year-olds led as always by Polly Ives with Ensemble 360 involvement. Places in the workshop have to booked in advance through Chloe Miller Smith, (0114) 281 4660, or chloe@musicintheround.co.uk

On the Sunday before the festival starts, May 1, there is a mini-Music Box workshop (sign up when you arrive) among much activity at Weston Park Museum where another Music in the Community Day takes place.

If you want to hear more about the festival, tune into BBC Radio 3’s In Tune at 6.15pm this Friday when MitR artistic director Angus Smith and members of Ensemble 360 will be talking about it.

The programme will be available as ‘audio on demand’ for seven days after the broadcast at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/