Royal College of Music 15th March 2015 – Review by Andrew Polmear

I detect an ambivalence among Strings Attached members. If asked, we say we want more string events rather than more wind. But give us a good wind concert and we love it. The RCM students gave us a wonderful wind concert and we adored it.

The music helps of course. The Nielsen Wind Quintet was a good start, and in keeping with this audience’s enthusiasm for 20th century works. The first two movements are made up of lovely intricate textures of sound – nothing too surprising – but the third movement is another matter. Starting with unaccompanied flute, each player has a solo that seems to abandon the conventions of the other movements. Discords are emphasised, rhythms are unexpected, the integrity of the quintet seems to be broken up by side shows – especially a humorous exchange between clarinet and bassoon.

The players looked so young but played with real maturity. From the very opening bassoon solo, phrasing was expressive and ensemble good, though not perfect. Listening to a wind quintet is so different from a string quintet. Here there is no clear leader – clarinet, oboe and flute all hold the high ground, while the bassoon supplies the bass and the horn a melodic inner part. It’s all very egalitarian – appropriate for a Danish composer. And of course each instrument makes such a different sound from the others. It gives a louder, denser sound than strings. In the Corn Exchange with no chairs behind the players it was even a little shrill because of the empty space that was thus exposed.

By the end of the first eight bars of Mozart’s Gran Partita we knew we were in for a treat. It’s a joyous piece, with Mozart using every one of his 13 players to turn a series of trivial little tunes into absolute perfection. If Salieri, as portrayed in Shaffer’s film Amadeus, had heard this performance he wouldn’t have had to wait till the third movement to realise that Mozart’s writing was divine; he’d have realised it from the start. The harmonies, the key changes, the resolutions of each little tune make you want to shout out “yes, yes, of course”. It’s also very funny, a point that these wonderful players brought out both in their playing and in the way two players would look at each other and grin (or get as near to grinning as a wind player can manage). And it really worked to use a double bass (as Mozart intended) instead of a contra-bassoon for the bass part. It added an extra texture right at the heart of the sound.

In the Strings Attached Newsletter I had urged members not to be put of by the fact that the players were students. I should have been more positive and said that one of the main attractions of this concert would be that the players are students but play with the technique and musicality of professionals. What a treat to see and hear some of the best young musicians in the country play such glorious music. This link between the Brighton Dome and the RCM is a wonderful thing. Long may it continue.