Two contrasting works from the Nash Ensemble made for a fine evening of the very best quality chamber music at Wigmore Hall, gratefully received in the hall and by many online. Richard Hosford produced a rich tone throughout his performance of Brahms' late Clarinet Quintet in B minor, which was entirely appropriate for this work. While it sees Brahms adopting the melancholy, resigned mood of those works from his last few years, it also represents a renewed enthusiasm for composition, inspired by his admiration for the playing of clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. So, while there are aspects of the work that seem to echo the rarefied atmosphere of Schubert's String Quintet, it also has a freshness and lightness which is sometimes missed, though not by the Nash here.

Adrian Brendel and Richard Hosford © Wigmore Hall
Adrian Brendel and Richard Hosford
© Wigmore Hall

The first movement was robust and sensitive by turns, without ever lingering or losing momentum. The slow movement was not given the hypersensitive treatment that is often the way, but its delicate and warm emotions were presented without sentimentality. As in the first movement, the tempo was quite swift and maintained with some discipline. However, the final bars were as exquisite a pianissimo as anyone could have hoped for. 

The Andantino continued the same open-air sensibility and had the wit and whimsy necessary in these trademark Brahmsian intermezzo-type movements. The variation form finale saw each of the five sections nicely characterised, with the overall impetus maintained, leading inevitably to the melancholy return of themes from the first movement by way of a coda. Here for first time, appropriately, the performance succumbed to a Schubertian sense of loss and sadness. 

The Nash Ensemble © Wigmore Hall
The Nash Ensemble
© Wigmore Hall

Dvořák's Piano Quintet no. 2 in A major that followed is a work of confidence and optimism, written at a time when the composer was at the height of his career. Not that this is a shallow work, in fact it is one of the joys of Dvořák that he is able to produce music that depicts happiness with true depth of feeling. 

In the first movement the Nash Ensemble, joined now by Simon Crawford-Phillips at the piano, found a robustness and questing atmosphere, achieved again by the choice of a swiftish tempo and a refusal to linger. In the powerful development section, they built up a Brahmsian head of steam, the symphonic scope and structure superbly held together with the coda finding a tough exuberance. 

The Dumka second movement is a dance form alternating the wistful with the lively. The quality of the main theme holds the whole movement together, but all the satellite themes are ravishing and inspired. Every aspect was given its full due here and you couldn’t want for a performance of more insight and affection.

Simon Crawford-Phillips © Wigmore Hall
Simon Crawford-Phillips
© Wigmore Hall

Dvořák was invariably successful in his Scherzo movements, mostly based on Czech dance; the Furiant in this quintet is no exception. Effervescent and propulsive, especially at the fast tempo here, the fine passage-work of Crawford-Phillips was particularly effective here. 

The finale is dominated by another dance rhythm, this time the Polka. Its light-hearted nature isn’t without a slightly manic edge, emphasised by an uninhibited approach here. Positive energy was never far away, even in the propulsive, unacademic fugal development section. In the final pages, a moment of repose only added to the sense of unalloyed joy that rounded off this most appealing of all piano quintets. 


This performance was reviewed from Wigmore Hall's video stream

Watch the video here