Round up the Round

Sarah Gabriel as Eliza Doolittle
Sarah Gabriel as Eliza Doolittle
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MUSIC in the Round completes its autumn season at the Crucible Studio over the next 10 days with a concert on almost every one of them.

After the John Taylor Trio last night, another master pianist with different musical leanings, Tim Horton, moves in with his formidably accomplished wind colleagues from Ensemble 360 tonight, Thursday.

Proceedings get under way with Roussel’s relatively short, early Divertissement for piano and wind quintet, Op 6 (1906), which pre-echoes the then-notorious, advanced leanings of ‘Les Six’ one of whose number, the most famous one, Poulenc, has a work in the concert.

Written for the famous French flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, it’s his beguiling and witty Flute Sonata, a late work with which he killed two birds with one stone.

It was a commission from the Coolidge Foundation in 1956 that Poulenc finally accepted, suggesting a sonata for flute and piano if he could reserve the premiere for the Strasbourg Festival in 1957.

Poulenc promptly rang Rampal, who had been badgering him for a flute sonata, and said: “You know you’ve always wanted me to write a sonata for flute and piano?

“Well, I’m going to, and the best thing is that the Americans will pay for it! I’ve been commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation to write a chamber piece in memory of Elizabeth Coolidge.

“I never knew her, so I think the piece is yours.”

It duly received its Strasbourg premiere ‘twice’ in 1957 with the composer and Rampal initially performing it to an audience of one, legendary pianist Artur Rubinstein, who asked to hear it as he wasn’t going to be around for its official premiere the next day.

Poulenc was involved in a BBC broadcast of the piece in January 1958, leaving one wondering when the Coolidge Foundation finally performed ‘their’ commission a month later if there were a few mutterings along the lines of used goods.

Juliette Bausor is the flautist with Tim Horton here after a performance of one of Nielsen’s best-known and engaging works, his Wind Quintet, but will not be called on for Mozart’s watershed Quintet for piano and wind as the composer was not overly fond of the flute.

Flautist, pianist and oboist Adrian Wilson are back on Tuesday lunchtime with another attractive concert that begins with Schubert’s uncharacteristically virtuosic Introduction and Variations on ‘Trockne Blumen’ (Dry Flowers), the 18th song of his Die Schöne Müllerin cycle, for flute and piano. Following it is the Oboe Sonata by Henri Dutilleux, who reaches his 96th birthday in January and is still composing (at his usual slow pace), this work from 1947, just escaping the destruction of everything he had penned up to 1946.

Demersseman/Berthélemy, the authors of Duo Brilliant on Themes from Rossini’s William Tell for flute, oboe and piano, which ends the concert, will cause a few raised eyebrows.

Both were French and died young, in 1868, having being born in 1829 (the year William Tell was premiered in Paris) and 1833, respectively, the work in its original form belonging to the former, a brilliant flautist and composer who wrote copious music for his instrument. He was also one of the first French composers to write music for saxophones, invented in the 1840s by Adolph Sax.

There is no apparent evidence that Berthélemy was a composer, just a presumably an outstanding oboist who arranged the work to get in on the act.

A passing thought: Music in the Round’s blurb for the concert refers to William Tell as “a much-loved Rossini opera” – true of the overture, perhaps. The opera is hardly ever performed, fine though it is.

Tim Horton is still in residence next Thursday (December 8) when Ensemble 360’s ‘string quartet’ occupies the Studio’s space after Matt Hunt has dropped in to contribute the clarinet part in Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock.

The soprano soloist and in the following work, Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, is Sarah Gabriel (replacing Amy Freston), a highly-regarded young singer with an international profile in music from Baroque times to the present, her versatility extending to a triumphant Eliza Doolittle in an acclaimed Robert Carsen production of My Fair Lady in Paris 12 months ago.

If you are still someone with a strange aversion to the name Schoenberg after all these years, you will be amazed how approachable his historically defining piece is, and there is always the second Brahms piano quartet to end the concert.