The principal string players of Aurora Orchestra proved on Saturday evening that if they wished to take up chamber music full-time they would immediately vault into the front rank of chamber players. They were joined by the talented Swiss pianist Louis Schwizgebel in an elegant live-streamed concert from Kings Place that included a chamber version of Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 26, in D major, K.537 “Coronation”, Ravel's ravishing Piano Trio in A minor, and the premiere an Aurora-commissioned new work, Lucid, by Sasha Scott, winner of the 2019 BBC Proms Young Composer Competition.

Louis Schwizgebel and members of Aurora Orchestra
© Kings Place

The Mozart concerto, originally scored for solo piano with flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani (in D, A), and strings, was performed as chamber music in an arrangement by Ignaz Lachner for string quintet and solo piano. The imaginative scoring did not leave one wishing for winds and brass; the score was stripped to its essentials, played with elegance. Schwizgebel is a sensitive, colorful pianist. In the second movement, the first four repeated piano notes each had subtle differences in attack and color. There was unanimity of phrasing between pianist and strings throughout.

BBC Radio 3 veteran Tom Service was the presenter for the concert in what were apparently pre-recorded videos outside Kings Place. During the first break, he interviewed composer Sasha Scott about her new work, which she described as portraying those moments between wakefulness and sleep. The seven-minute work for string quartet and double bass progressed from quite harmonious passages, often with the first violin taking the lead, though more "confused" passages of short motifs piled upon each other, as if the brain is spinning with ever more data heading to slumber. Sometimes these motifs almost become melody, only to be stymied by other fragments. The musical shape-shifting morphs into a brief climax before calming by using string harmonics and a pianissimo end. The composer's description seemed accurately fulfilled in Aurora's performance.

Maia Cabeza, Louis Schwizgebel and Sébastien Van Kuijk
© Kings Place

Maurice Ravel's 1914 Piano Trio was started in the months immediately before the start of World War 1. He rushed to complete it after war broke out in order that he could enlist [although he was rejected]. Only the third movement portrays the impending doom of the war; the other movements are filled with shimmering fantasy, a range of emotions, and hints of orientalism. Schwizgebel, Maia Cabeza and Sébastian Van Kuijk were brilliant in their ensemble and musicianship. For me, the third movement Passacaille was the emotional and musical highlight. The passacaglia, a Baroque form based on a repeating bass theme with variations above the theme, followed the conventions of the form, with a slow, dolorous theme in the low range of the piano, then building with emotional intensity, but finally ending as the movement began in the piano. The other movements were equally dazzling in the performers' virtuosity, transparency, and an ecstatic musical sensuality. The fourth movement, with its fountains of arpeggios and passionate melody was especially luscious.

This performance was reviewed from the Kings Place video stream