Classical music is often said to be elitist, a genre detached from everyday life and everyday people, a genre that many people are afraid to explore. The musicians of Ensemble 360 have made it one of their tasks to break down those barriers between the (potential) audience and the music and musicians; they believe in an informal, friendly concert situation and play "in the round" wherever it is possible. Needless to say that it was possible on this occasion, and it was a very pleasant change to experience music in a more intimate setting even as a regular concert-goer.

Juliette Bausor © Juliette Bausor
Juliette Bausor
© Juliette Bausor

The ensemble opened the concert in quintet form with Dvořák's extensive Piano Quintet no. 2 in A major with a strong focus on articulation. The spacious cello theme of the first movement had a warm glow, the more energetic sections were nicely attacked and clear and the ending was passionately furious – so furious that first violinist Benjamin Nabarro's violin went rather out of tune (he was cool as a cucumber, however, and it only became apparent quite how much the peg had loosened as he tuned after they had finished the movement).

The musicians took the second movement Dumka at a good pace that gave it a more even flow and prevented it from dragging, without losing expressive impact or melodic warmth. It also worked particularly well for the theme accompanied by pizzicato and added rhythmic continuity. This quintet lives on its rhythmically complex structure, and the musicians created a wonderfully rich and varied rhythmic texture, interweaving the many different fragments into a cohesive unit. While Navarro often seemed somewhat tense, I particularly enjoyed Hannah Dawson's mellow sound on second violin and the Scherzo that was rapid but not rushed and full of the joy the whole ensemble radiated.

The piece I was most curious about, however, was Mozart's Adagio and Rondo K.617, initially written for strings, wind and glass harmonica – would we get to hear one after all? We wouldn't, for health reasons, as oboist Adrian Wilson explained: a number of glass harmonica players had ended up in an asylum, and musicologist Friedrich Rochlitz suggested not to play the instrument when you're ill, not to play it if you are healthy, and not to play if you intend to remain so. Luckily, Constanze Mozart suggested the dangerous device be substituted with a much less hazardous piano, and the ensemble chose this later version of the piece so it could be performed in safety.

Juliette Bausor's flute playing and her focused tone at times resembled the ethereal tonal quality of the harmonica, at other times it was rather dominant – perhaps due to the proximity of the audience to the musicians. The piano was also a little too prominent, but it was the instrument that had a tendency to rumble and the pianist was by no means lacking musicianship. While this safer version brought out Mozart's trademark playfulness in the Rondo much better and gave it decidedly stronger structure and coherence, much of the piece's original magic was lost.

Seeing how much the musicians enjoyed themselves playing Louis Spohr's Nonet, again at a swift pace that complemented the music well, made up a little for missing out on the glass harmonic earlier. With a sound that was not as balanced as it could have been, which eventually dampened my enthusiasm, the musicians passed motif fragments to each other sleekly, their performance much enhanced by the communication between them, which appeared to centre on the charismatic Laurène Durantel on double bass. While the concert wasn't all I had hoped for, it certainly was a pleasure to hear three so very different chamber works in such a close-up setting.