A one-hour concert of chamber wind instrument music placed itself neatly tucked away in The Lantern at the Colston Hall as part of the returned Tuesday Lunchtime Concert Series. The Magnard Ensemble, formed in 2012 by five now-appointed chamber music fellows of the Royal Academy of Music, played a lunchtime programme of three works. Two of the three pieces were written in 1922 while other was commissioned by the Galliard Ensemble in 1999.

Their original programme kept the Magnard Ensemble’s keen promise in making lesser-known pieces heard by audiences, but the way the concert was delivered was far from original. After reading the opening paragraph in the programme about the Magnard Ensemble’s exploration of “new and exciting ways to present live music”, my expectations were along the line of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s Night Shift project, I was left disappointed. Each of the pieces were announced by different members of the ensemble instead of being written in the programme. There was a sense of impassioned enthusiasm from clarinettist Joseph Shiner discussing the group’s relationship with British composer Paul Patterson and also Shiner’s personal relationship with Patterson’s Westerly Winds, based on folk songs from the West Country where he had spent his school years in Wells. Otherwise, the introductions were by-the-book and reminiscent of university recitals.

Patterson’s Westerly Winds, despite being a modern piece, had a romantic quality and a sense of togetherness, perhaps from the folky nature of the four movements. This was the most engaging piece of the afternoon that threw melody lines between instruments and made the ensemble communicate well. The concert was rounded off with the final movement, a much-needed high energy “The Looe Bar Lady” based on a traditional Cornish floral dance.

This tight-knit group of instrumentalists was unfortunately not as tight in their musical performance as a whole. The playing techniques within the Magnard Ensemble varied; some were excellent,but lazy habits crept in unfortunately, demonstrating the cardinal sins of playing a wind instrument. Throughout the concert, members of the ensemble were puffing their cheeks and supporting their instruments between their knees, resulting in a lack of control in tone, affecting the aural quality of the music whilst simultaneously cutting off the sound from the audience. The horn entries were not smooth detracting from their delicate nature in the music particularly in the opening piece, Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s Wind Quintet, which covered a sensitive range of moods especially in the middle movements.

The star of the ensemble was easily bassoonist Hannah Rankin who had complete control over her instrument. She took great care in dynamically slotting the bassoon into the ensemble, never overbearing and using a paper mute at one point. The highlight of Rankin’s performance was towards the end of German composer Paul Hindemith’s Kleine Kammermusik no. 2, where she played an ear-opening duet with Shiner on the clarinet. At times in Hindemith’s piece, the ensemble seemed to have practised their solos more than their ‘tuttis’. Timing was not an issue at any point in the concert, but a feeling of competitive playing took over from a united performance, where more energy was injected into the solos than the rest of the music.

In theory, the lunchtime concert is a brilliant escape from work madness, into a world of classical music for an hour. It should be like a miniature form of meditation, leaving one feeling revitalised and unwound, ready to face the rest of the working day. Unfortunately, this concert was an unusual delivery to the South West from the Royal Academy of Music, which has, as a prestigious institution, previously delivered sheer excellence for their RAM Lunchtime Series to Bristol in the past. The young musicians of the Magnard Ensemble showed promising potential as performance artists with a further education remaining ahead of them.

**111