The shape-shifting qualities of the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective led to a recital programme of tremendous variety at Wigmore Hall, where they are Associate Artists this season. Morphing from piano quartet to string quartet then piano quintet by way of four vocal settings all involving string players, the music spanned a fraction under two centuries. On paper, it appeared to have little coherence, other than exploring different aspects of love, but any programme that includes songs by Glinka and Borodin and closes with Erich Korngold’s lush Piano Quintet piques my interest.

The Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective play Korngold
© Wigmore Hall

In Vienna, the young Franz Schubert (was there any other kind?) was in love with Therese Grob. She was a fine soprano and Schubert composed some of his earliest songs for her, including the passionate Gretchen am Spinnrade. For her brother, Heinrich, he wrote the Adagio and Rondo Concertante in F major, a piano concerto in miniature and a fine vehicle for Kaleidoscope pianist Tom Poster. The Wigmore Steinway sounded over-bright at times at its treble end, but Poster whisked through the upbeat Rondo with panache, darting between the trio of strings, maintaining good eye contact with violinist Savitri Grier. 

Sadly, Schubert was unable to find a job capable of proving his ability to support a family and Therese went on to marry a baker. Cue songs of despair from Franz. Russian composers were pretty good at songs of despair too, exemplified by Mikhail Glinka’s Doubt, in which the poet fears he has a rival, and Borodin’s The pretty girl no longer loves me. Matthew Rose’s lugubrious bass suited these songs perfectly, while Elena Urioste’s violin obbligato in the Glinka wept in support. Rose also sang Kate Whitley’s This is My Love Poem for You, written for him in 2015, setting text by Sabrina Mahfouz. Placidly paced, with long vocal lines, it sits nicely within Rose’s upper mid-range. The piano is used sparingly, but Whitley’s writing for violin and cello often shimmers.

Matthew Rose
© Wigmore Hall

Restless string characterise the ebb and flow of the tide in Samuel Barber’s evocative setting of Dover Beach, “the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, at their return, up the high strand” in Matthew Arnold’s poem. One normally associates Barber’s setting with high baritones – the composer himself sang on the first recording with the Curtis String Quartet – and it took time for the ear to adjust to Rose’s weighty bass, but his diction was a model of clarity and his feel for the text was keen. Rosalind Ventris’ viola rocked to and fro in the calm postlude. Before, the four strings had played George Walker’s Lyric for Strings, a work that – like Barber’s famous Adagio – was extracted from a string quartet. Led by Savitri Grier’s first violin, the players maintained dry-eyed clarity, the work never dipping into cloying over-emoting for its own sake. It’s a work that’s cropping up often on programmes now (most recently with the Detroit Symphony) and it deserves to be better known.

The final scheduled work plunged us into post-war Vienna of 1920. Korngold’s Piano Quintet revels in harmonic richness, but despite Laura van der Heijden’s gloriously rich cello tone and Urioste long, glistening violin lines, the strings avoided slathering the score in cream in a reading which brought out the drama in the outer movements. But it was the central Adagio, a set of variations drawn from the third of Korngold’s Abschiedslieder, which made the greatest impression, the Kaleidoscope achieving playing of great luminosity.

The only time all six performers were together on the platform was for the encore, a neat arrangement by Poster of Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific, with Rose taking on the role created for Ezio Pinza with style and ardour.