Concert review

Pelléas Ensemble

22nd January 2018


The Pelléas Ensemble (Henry Roberts- flute, Luba Tunnicliffe – viola and Oliver Wass – harp) were the guest artists for Penrith Music Club’s first concert of 2018, held in Penrith Methodist Church.

Formed in 2011 while students at the Guildhall School of Music in London, the Ensemble is quickly establishing a reputation as one of the most skilful and innovative groups of the present time.

The harp really came to the fore in the orchestral and chamber music of the years preceding the First World War. The Impressionist style of Debussy and Delius was very evident in Arnold Bax’s Elegiac Rhapsody, an enigmatic and haunting work all too rarely heard. Like Bax, Bartok was an avid collector of folk songs in his youth and the influence of Hungarian folk music dominated selections from his Suite Paysanne Hongroise, originally written for flute and piano and played here by Henry Roberts and Oliver Wass in Paul Arma’s arrangement for flute and harp. This offered a series of varied moods, strong dance rhythms contrasting with melancholy and nostalgia, a virtuoso flute part and some challenging harmonies on the harp.

A Trio Sonata by Corelli offered the only pre-20th century item in the programme. Originally written for two violins and cello, its transference to flute, viola and harp worked brilliantly. The two slow movements offered exquisite touches of ornamentation and poignant suspension writing between flute and viola, while the two quick movements were filled with sprightly imitation and some beautifully-phrased passages of thirds between flute and viola in the final movement. This excursion into Italian Baroque music of the 17th century was one of the highlights of the evening.

In contrast, Stephen Roberts’ Moroccan Sketches had its first performance less than a fortnight ago! Written for the Pelléas Ensemble, this was a realistic evocation of the sights and sounds of Morocco. Its three movements describe the bustle of a street market, the sounds of a far-off wedding feast disappearing into the distance and a kaleidoscope of traditional Moroccan folk music and Berber sounds in a fascinating last movement. Stephen Roberts’ well-crafted and imaginative writing gave all three players the opportunity to show the full range of their skills and is an interesting and exciting addition to their repertoire.

Britten was a great admirer of the Elizabethan song writer and lutenist John Dowland: one of the songs from his Lachrymae forms the basis of his 1958 set of variations for viola and piano. The full range of the viola’s unique sound world is explored intensely by Britten, the harp playing the piano’s role of support with bleak and uncompromising harmony. At the end Britten turns back unobtrusively to the simplicity and melancholy of Dowland’s original harmony.

Three movements from Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin ended the recital. Combining the dance forms of the Baroque French Suite with Ravel’s inimitable harmonic touches, these began with a bustling Prelude and ended with a lively and effervescent Toccata. The elegant and beautifully-phrased Menuet, which came between, is one of Ravel’s most sublime pieces of writing and the Pelléas Ensemble’s performance of it in Jocelyn Morlock’s excellent arrangement was a joy to hear. Maybe this was the highlight of a quite delightful evening!

Colin Marston

Updated on 5th November 2018. Contact webmaster
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