Concert review

Ensemble Marsyas

18th October 2021

“Stormy Halloween music” was the term used by Peter Whelan, founder of Ensemble Marsyas to describe the opening movement of Mozart’s Serenade in C minor, K.388, with which the Ensemble began their concert for Penrith Music Club. Founded in 2011, Ensemble Marsyas has become internationally-known for its interpretation of wind music of the Baroque and Classical eras, playing on period instruments of the time.

In the 1780s Mozart wrote three serenades for wind instruments, created for outdoor performance in Vienna as entertainment for summer evenings. All three are outstanding examples of Mozart’s consummate skill at writing music for wind ensemble. The two included in the concert created a wonderful evening of wind music, hugely enjoyed by an enthusiastic audience.

After its stormy opening the first movement of the C minor Serenade proceeded with a delicate oboe melody. Exquisite precision of phrasing was immediately apparent and this was to be a highlight throughout the evening. The waltz-like second movement, with its shades of Viennese court music, brought some delightful playing by the clarinets at the beginning and some subtle touches of chromaticism as the music progressed; the following minuet showed Mozart’s mastery of contrapuntal writing in an unusual but highly effective way. The concluding theme and variations gave all the instruments an opportunity to show their skills, a lovely quieter passage leading to a rousing ending.

The eight wind players of the C minor Serenade became twelve in the Serenade in B flat major, K.361,  with the addition of two basset horns and two more horns to the pairs of oboes, clarinets,  bassoons and horns to make an ensemble of thirteen players, including a double bass.

The B flat Serenade, also known as the Gran Partita (and described by Peter Whelan as “a big party”) is a joyous, exuberant work in which the complete range of Mozart’s wind-writing skills is given full rein. The sonorous passage of chords (reminiscent of The Magic Flute), which begins the work, gives way to a sparkling Allegro. The dance-like character is continued in two Minuets, one stately, the other joyful, each of which offers Trios with imaginative instrumental combinations that are a constant delight to the ear. Two slower movements offer more in the way of solo lines for oboes and clarinets and a brilliant scampering passage for bassoons. A set of variations gives even more opportunities for solo instruments – the passage of pianissimo writing towards the end was spell-binding. The final movement - an exhilarating rondo – shows Mozart thoroughly enjoying himself!

The enjoyment of Ensemble Marsyas in playing this superbly-crafted music was plain to see. From the sonorous writing for full ensemble to the delicate embellishments and contrasts of instrumental timbres this was an evening to savour. The concert was made possible by a generous legacy from Jim Burns, former Treasurer of the Music Club, and was a fitting way to remember his great contribution in that role.

Updated on 27th June 2022
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