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Utterly beguiling

The Westmorland Gazette, Ian Jones

KENDAL Town Hall may not be the Wigmore Hall but who needs the metropolis when we have the Kendal Midday Concert Club experience throughout the autumn and winter?

Another magnificent season ended with music making of the highest calibre from the Castalian Quartet in Haydn’s ‘Quinten’ String Quartet and then, joined by Robert Plane, in the wonderful Clarinet Quintet by Brahms.

Both these works come from late in their composers’ lives when their music had long achieved full maturity. Haydn had another decade to live during which time he wrote his finest settings of the Mass for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Brahms for his part believed his composing years were over until he heard the magnificent and inspiring playing of the clarinettist Richard Muhlfeld. Both composers lived through times of civil and military unrest and yet have left us a legacy of music which can even now take us beyond the tragedies and turmoils of life to somewhere sane, calm and reflective. This a packed house experienced to the full at the hands of these wonderful performers. Ever the witty and inventive composer Haydn, in this late quartet, displays these qualities to the full and the Castalians made the most of them.

Wonderful ensemble playing, lyrical first violin melodies supported by utterly sensitive lower parts, vigorously deft and energetic playing when required and an astonishing dynamic range characterised the first movement. After that the gentle balm of the second movement with its subtle use of rubato and strikingly accented chords came as a welcome contrast and led us gently into the vigorous canon of the Minuet and the fusion of all the quartet’s moods in the Finale. The total commitment of all four players was obvious throughout.

Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet is one of the loveliest examples of the genre and when played as it was by Robert Plane and the Castalian Quartet is utterly beguiling. Immediately noticeable was the warmth of string tone so necessary and so characteristic of this music from a century later than the Haydn quartet. But here was no mini-clarinet concerto: the five instruments were totally integrated and played as one with great sympathy and shared emotion. Still, of course, the individual instrumental characteristics were evident: the warm tender suppleness of the string playing, rich cello and viola lower tones and elegiac violins set beside the liquid bubbling clarinet. This was especially evident in the lovely Adagio second movement.

The simultaneous contrast and closeness of major and minor keys was a feature of both works in this wonderful concert and it would be hard to think of a more fitting conclusion to a wonderful season of concerts taking place at a time of great tragedy and turmoil in the wider world than the closing bars of the Brahms quintet.

Here was music which must have made this audience, like Orsino, feel its ‘dying fall’ and wish for ‘excess of it’.
Thank you Robert Plane, the Castalians and KMCC for a rare experience!

 

Photo credit: Sara Porter

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24/10/2020