Monday 10 June 2013

A terrific collection of British works for piano quartet brilliantly played by the Cappa Ensemble on a new release from Nimbus

After their success at the 2007 Royal Over-Seas League Competition, the Cappa Ensemble went on to win Music Network's Young Musicwide Award in 2009. Concert tours around Ireland, appearances at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Radio France-Montpellier Festival, Verbier Festival and broadcasts on RTÉ Lyric FM, BBC Radio 3 and Radio France followed.

The ensemble has enjoyed collaborative projects with artists such as Nicholas Daniel  , Pekka Kussisto  and Jörg Widmann  and its repertoire has evolved with a strong focus on both the piano quartet and string trio. They have toured extensively in Australasia and Japan and they made their Wigmore Hall début in December 2008. In 2009, Cappa Ensemble studied with the Artemis Quartet at the Queen Elizabeth School of Music, Belgium and hold a Fellowship at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. They have also performed in masterclass with renowned musicians Gabor Takacs-Nagy , Ralf Gothoni and Alfred Brendel . The ensemble takes its name from the famous 17th century Italian violin-maker Gioffredo Cappa.

The members of the Cappa Ensemble are Michael McHale (piano) , Bartosz Woroch (violin) , Adam Newman (viola) and Brian O’Kane (cello) .

Their first release on the Nimbus Alliance label   features four works for piano quartet from British composers.

NI 6230

This new release makes an excellent concert in itself having, as it does, works ranging from Frank Bridge (1879-1941) , through Arnold Bax (1883-1953) and William Walton (1902-1983)  to Ian Wilson (b.1964)

Bridge’s Phantasie Piano Quartet in F♯ minor, H.94 was written in 1910 and comes at the end of what is considered to be his first period, showing early Bridge at his finest. It opens with a very typical Frank Bridge swirl from piano and strings, before a beautiful section for solo piano. The strings re-enter in a lovely melodic passage finely played by the Cappa Ensemble before a lively section with nicely sprung rhythms and some particularly fine playing from Michael McHale. The Cappas show superb ensemble and, in some of the sections that follow, some entrancingly lovely string sounds. In the emotionally intense section, towards the end, the Cappas are terrific and what a lovely coda, perfectly played, gently and quietly tailing away.

Bax wrote his dark Piano Quartet, in one movement in 1922 and dedicated it to Bessie Rawlins, the violinist who had given the first performance of his Second Violin Sonata. The Piano Quartet received its première on February 9, 1923, performed by the Meredyll Quartet in the Aeolian Hall, London.

Bax’s Piano Quartet is particularly interesting in that it was written around the time that he was working on his tempestuous First Symphony, a work developed from a Piano Sonata in E flat. It opens in a troubled manner before changing to a more wistful theme. Mysterious harmonies appear before the strings try to resurrect the main melody. The Cappa Ensemble really seems to have the measure of this strange, troubled work with some really fine playing. This work certainly anticipates the first symphony with its feeling of conflict and mysticism. As the work progresses the Cappas build up a tremendous tension, full of superb playing, before the music suddenly relaxes.

Ian Wilson’s Noct for Piano Quartet was written in 2011 following a commission from Music Network and was first performed in October 2011 in Sligo, Ireland. As its title suggests, Noct is a nocturne inspired by the constellations and the idea of gathering darkness. Whilst we enter a different world with this work it does have some of the strange harmonies and sounds of Bridge and Bax. The structure alternates sections titled Constellation with sections titled Encroachment, Crepusculum and Veiled nebula.

As the work opens, the piano and strings mull over a motif before a rhythmic theme enters. The Cappa Ensemble brings much sensitivity to the delicate passages as the music becomes quieter and sparer. There is some superb playing from this ensemble in the quiet magical moments that ensue. The final section constellation (-less) 4 brings a gentle melodic end.

Walton’s Piano Quartet in D minor is an early work dating from 1918/19. One does not very much associate Walton with chamber music yet he wrote two string quartets, No.1 from 1919–1922 and No.2 in A minor from 1944–1947; a Toccata in A minor for violin and piano (1922–1923); 2 Pieces for violin and piano (1948–1950); Sonata for violin and piano (1949) and a Duettino for oboe and violin (1982) as well as a number of works for solo instruments.

The Allegramente of the Piano Quartet has a quite wistful opening before the music speeds up. There is much emotional pull in this movement to which the Cappa Ensemble respond so well, following all the twists and turns of this attractive music. The Allegro scherzando brings a hint of the mature Walton with some fine ensemble and superb detail from the Cappas. There are some broader passages before the spikier music of the main theme re-appears. Towards the coda the two themes combine. The beautiful Andante tranquillo opens quietly and gently with a lovely piano part over the strings. There is some lovely playing from the strings with pizzicato and harmonics. Eventually the music tries to become more volatile but fades. Again the music gently rises but there is a hushed ending. The Allegro molto comes as something of a shock after the gentle andante with a strident, rhythmic theme for both piano and strings. This soon falls to a gentler section but the natural forward thrust re-appears with the main theme again showing hints of Walton’s mature style. This is rather a special performance of the Walton, beautifully played.

This is a terrific collection of British works for piano quartet brilliantly played by the Cappa Ensemble who have been given one of those fine recordings that is so completely self-effacing, one finds oneself not even thinking about it, so natural and detailed is it. There are excellent booklet notes.

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