The Aronowitz Ensemble 29th November 2015 – Review by Richard Amey, Worthing Herald

It’s usually only the time-poor amateur who finds himself in the gym on Sunday morning while others hear a gale howling outside and happily postpone leaving bed. And there’s no full-out professional sport played at least until the afternoon.

But obey the alarm clock and be performing, with all the stops out, Brahms’ Piano Quintet before lunch and you’d be doing it surely for money not love. Simultaneously while pub football teams in a morning-after haze were on a wind-lashed loser from their first whistle, the Aronowitz Ensemble were in Cup Final do-or-die with their pianist Tom Poster needing to be in top form to drive them to victory through this at times belligerent beast that towers, along with not too many others, over the rest of chamber music.

Poster had been permitted a warm-up − and one conducted over hot coals, at that. Beethoven’s final Cello Sonata is by another of the world’s most demanding composers for piano: one who by then already had his five testing piano concertos done and dusted.

At the piano, Poster in both works at times resembled a swimmer rising and falling, and thrashing against the mounting waves off Brighton beach. Head down, one minute, thrown back the next. A battle against the pounding pianistic elements thrown at him, notwithstanding the artistic and expressive obligations also on his shoulders. Plus the imperative at the same time to be in emotional and interpretative synch with four other musicians.

“It’s a real physical commitment to play both of these composers but especially this Brahms,” confided Poster after, presumably, a full showering down following a performance by the five Aronowitzes that left the audience exhausted and bereft of the applauding energy to bring them back for a third curtain call. “There is great piano music by other composers that falls perfectly, or easily, under the hands,” continued Poster. “But Beethoven and Brahms don’t care about that. They write music that’s often very difficult and awkward – but I love playing them both, and one reason is it’s so exciting to do.”

I spoke at a Worthing Interview Concert the other week with Poom Prommachart, a competition prizewinning pianist and a supreme-award medal-winning graduate from the Royal College of Music. He plays Chopin and Rakhmaninov with staggering ease but having started learning and adding the German’s Piano Concerto No 2 to the 30 others already in his repertoire, Prommachart told me: “I’m finding Brahms so hard.”

Among the Brahms Piano Quintet’s companions looking down on the rest is the String Quintet in C by Schubert, and after reading Coffee Concerts programme writer Chris Darwin’s notes one realises this Quintet is where Brahms took top music in Vienna after that beloved Schubert masterpiece elevated us to what sometimes seems an unsurpassable listening peak.

The Aronowitz are still in their early 30s but already the tragedy and poetry in most Brahms evidently courses their veins. They were sharply alert to the unrelenting changes of mood, feeling, texture and purpose in a giant work that, in three movements out of four, seems an epic litany of distress and anger, gritted-teeth determination, nearly always with tenderness awaiting but precious only fleeting balm. Ten years ago The Aronowitz formed up to dare to play just this work among chamber music of wider instrumental combination.

Unexpectedly, admirably turning Poster’s pages was The Dome chief executive Andrew Comben. And if he doubted the wisdom of putting this turbulent, tempestuous Piano Quintet in front of the Coffee Concert devotees who were, first and foremost, fans of string quartets, his fears evaporated as the start had to be delayed for 10 minutes.

The audience began queuing for the first-come first-served seating 40 minutes before the scheduled start; 50 minutes later, 250 people had chairs found for them – a response of nearly 25% above average.

The Aronowitz’ string quartet line-up began this monthly Coffee Concert with four of Dvorak’s Cypresses. These arrangements of some of his own 18 (unrequited) love songs were of the kind of beauty, intimacy and sensitivity which in the Aronowitz’s hands on this Sunday morning, brought us something in addition to just breakfast in bed.

Their gentle touch culminated in the final Cypress with the tender murmurings of Rosalind Ventris’ viola then Tom Hankey’s second fiddle. And typical of the moment during this four-voices-as-one aubade was the sight though the vast Corn Exchange windows of the Pavilion Gardens trees swaying in concurrence.

Then Poster and Guy Johnston plunged together into their Beethoven. This fifth Cello Sonata of his five was where this composer developed the form from virtually nowhere before him – for Brahms and Dvorak themselves to continue the cello’s potential in more than one further direction. Together, Poster and Johnston breathed the conversational slow movement like a long aria, and framed it with a playfully combative reading of the opening movement and a closing fugue of invigoratingly entertaining tautness.

Might we look forward to a Brahms Sextet, or even that Schubert Quintet, from the Aronowitz some time in future?