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Prizewinning viola player Martin Saving (who played on a Ceruti viola of 1808 on loan from the Jarnaker foundation) is of mixed Estonian/Swedish parentage and studied at the Edsberg Institute (the former Swedish Radio Music School). He has taken part in master classes with (amongst others) Nobuko Imai, and serves as leader of the viola section of the World Youth Symphony Orchestra. French cellist Marie Bitlloch (who played a cello of the Goffriller school loaned by the Fond Instrumental Français) also studied in Perpigan and later at the Paris Conservatoire before moving on to studies with Ralph Kirshbaum at the RNCM, Manchester. In 1998 she won the Jury's prize at the Bach Competition in Leipzig. Since then she has appeared as soloist with several European orchestras.

Guy Eshed, former principal flautist of the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he performed solos under Zubin Mehta and Valery Gergiev, and more recently of the West-Eastern Divan Workshop formed by Daniel Barenboim, is an immensely attractive player. He produces a lovely -- and at times deliciously mellow -- sound: the exquisite variations which Mozart sets in motion in the first movement beguiled at every turn: not merely the flute's elegant solo line, but (in turn) brisk cavortings of first violin, cheerful counterpointing from the viola, and a merrily flippant variation for cello, before the flautist returns to assume the lead once more, brought alive the magical properties of the music and the church's acoustic alike. In Mozart's Adagio, it was the finely controlled pauses and some delicious echo effects that held the audience in thrall; while in the finale, the thoughtful ensemble playing and sprightly imitation between the strings, and between the solo flute and strings, were full of excitement and rich, witty invention. This finessed foursome showed a splendid feel for balance, too.

Beethoven's Op 16 Quintet, for piano, horn and wind, proved no less enthralling. The effect of Talbot Lane Church's enabling acoustic was to emphasise the individual qualities of each woodwind (or brass) instrument, lending each line markedly crisp definition. There are some appealing sequences for first the horn (Brian Walters) and then the clarinet (Matthew Hunt) with piano, and plenty of striking passages where Beethoven pits all four energetically against the keyboard in a lively hurly-burly. Nor does the piano assume merely a single role, for Tim Horton proved particularly skilled at bringing out the inner lines and internal contemplation of the elaborate piano part.

What also came across in the Beethoven was the phenomenal precision of these Ensemble 360 wind players' phrasing: in homophonic passages, on disparate instruments, notes emerged at precisely the same length, free of any rough or frayed edges; nor was this evidence of some kind of unsophisticated rote playing: rather, all the parts seemed to emerge naturally, almost magically, together. None of the players was over-assertive: everybody listened. The sense of through line and forward momentum was maintained to the end, where a busy horn outburst prefaces the conclusion.

Likewise in the Andante Cantabile, the restrained, two-part introduction for the piano, heralding the almost hymn-like entry of the other instruments, was entrancing. The effect in this movement is almost like a Mozart Serenade, especially where oboe and bassoon launch a flowing melodic discourse into which clarinet and later horn are folded. Some deft and prickly imitation of the keyboard by the rest in turn ensured the dancing quality of Beethoven's cheerfully gallivanting Rondo was brilliantly brought out. This movement really 'sang'. The luminous quality of the solo wind was especially pronounced in the fading final minute. The Rotherham audience was clearly beguiled by the sheer beauty and precision of the playing here, and showed it in their response.

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Copyright © 18 October 2005 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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