Meiningen Ensemble & Clare Wheat (soprano) – 8th November 2019

Image by Marian Pearson (more images and audience comments below)

Review by Clive Davies

Late English music has subtle distinguishing marks, chief of which might be an insistentspirit of place. This is not a matter of map references or compass points but rather an invocation of elsewhere, that space just on the edge of the horizon. This element of location was apparent in the programme presented by the Meiningen Ensemble to the Scunthorpe and North Lincolnshire Concert Society at the Outwood Academy, Foxhills.

The first segment of the concert revolved about Jonathan Gooing’s wholly persuasivearrangement of Thomas Dunhill’s song cycle ‘The Wind among the Reeds’. Scored originally for voice and orchestra, these four songs (by a composer who is buried in Appleby, Scunthorpe) are settings of poems by W B Yeats. This version featured a piano quartet (with Gooing himself at the keyboard) and the soprano Clare Wheat. The Irish provenance was inescapable:
When I play on my fiddle in Dooney
Folk dance like a wave of the sea
but Dunhill’s interpretation had a distinctively English inflection.

The Meiningen Ensemble, comprising in this instance David Milsom on violin, violist Rebecca Smith, cellist George Kennaway and Jonathan Gooing at the piano, gave a committed account of Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Minor, K 478, an attractive work that veers dizzily between gravitas and gaiety. By way of Mozartian foretaste, Clare Wheat offered a fierce and wrathful reading of Elektra’s aria from the opera Idomeneo.

Clare Wheat returned to the stage after the interval to present beguiling songs by Peter Warlock, Ivor Gurney and Herbert Howells. There were personal connections between these early 20th century composers, as well as a geographical nexus, for the concert concluded with the Howells Piano Quartet in A Minor Op 21. This is a somewhat-neglected but rewarding work that pays fond tribute to Ivor Gurney and is dedicated to Chosen Hill in Gloucestershire. The hill is a distinctive landmark, roughly equidistant between Cheltenham and Gloucester, whose contours support a weight of mystery and history and a web of spiritual ley lines. The poetry of doomed Gurney and the music of Howells can be traced, perhaps, to this West Country source.

The quartet does not provide a photo-fit portrait of the landmark, although it is not too fanciful to sense the composer’s engagement with the shifting seasons and changing moods of Chosen Hill. Thus the Lento second movement sounds a grave and solemn note, almost as if Howells had some presentiment as to what might befall his generation in the wars to come. The finale, by contrast, is fleet of foot, wholly English and almost calculated to make folk dance like a wave of the sea.

Audience comments:

  • Excellent musicianship all round. Very enjoyable!
  • I really enjoyed the short pieces preceding the advertised items.
  • Very enjoyable. Loved the Mozart, beautifully played. The Dunhill I thought subtly arranged for voice and string. had a little problem hearing the words … put it down to my hearing!
  • Good to have vocal contribution to the concert series.
  • We have been attending for about three years – the programme is excellent. I keep telling friends how good the society is. Thank you.
  • So lovely to hear local artists and a brilliant performance from Clare. Thank you.
  • It never ceases to amaze me the talent and performances we get in North Lincolnshire. Tonight, being no exception – Excellent!
  • Enjoyed the Mozart Quartet with the immediacy of the themes and the crispness of the playing
  • Loved the liveliness of the Mozart. Great to hear something new in the Dunhill. Really enjoyable.
  • I particularly appreciated Jonathan’s accompaniment which was self-effacing, sensitive, fluent and highly competent.
  • Imaginative programming, well-delivered (especially the Mozart) Strong soprano voice.
  • Enjoyed the ‘extras’ by the soprano. Excellent playing by all. Well balanced.
  • Absolutely beautiful. Wonderful to have a singer here.
  • Wonderful to have local talent – a very polished performance. Well done!

Audience comments about the second half of the concert:

  • The Howells – idyllic and not a cowpat in sight. Wonderful writing for, and performance of, the viola part.
  • Brilliant playing – slow movement of the Howells particularly fine – the climax really worked!! Dunhill beautifully arranged and sung.
  • I didn’t know any of Howell’s work, but enjoyed it very much.
  • Brilliant performance of a beautiful evocative work. Well done!
  • The Howells was new to me. I was absolutely in wonder at the music and the exceptional playing. Glorious evening.
  • Howells transported me to another place – stunning – I was moved to tears – transcendental.
  • I particularly enjoyed the Howells – what an exciting performance played with panache.
  • Howells – a revelation!
  • The last piece, the Howells was wonderful – uplifting and calming in turn. Thank you.
  • Wonderful evening! The Quintet were amazing. Particularly enjoyed the last piece, the Howells.
  • An interesting concert – well programmed, with relevant additions to the published programme. We came primarily for the Dunhill, given his local connection and his little-known status – but were pleasantly surprised by the Howells. Two questions occurred to us as a result: why is Howells only known as a composer of church music? And why are we not more aware generally of mid 20century English composers who aren’t Elgar? Lovely programme! Thanks.
  • Most enjoyable concert. Howells wonderful!
  • It was wonderful to hear the Howells Piano Quartet again!
  • The Howells provided a refreshing change to the string quartet media. I was particularly move by the slow movement which was serene and poetic. Altogether it was balanced and forward thinking.
  • Lovely concert. Good to have some vocal input – a very rich sound.