Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Dignified tribute for Her Majesty’s 90th birthday

THE Chamber Ensemble of London, under the leadership of Peter Fisher on violin, presented an eclectic

THE Chamber Ensemble of London, under the leadership of Peter Fisher on violin, presented an eclectic programme of 13 pieces chosen in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday.

In place of programme notes Clive Jenkins, the ensemble’s associate composer, gave an informative and witty introduction to each piece before it was played. The event’s format was informal and inviting.

The ensemble consisted of two each of first and second violins, one viola, cello, double bass and a Roland ep880 electronic keyboard that performed mainly in a discreet continuo role.

This string configuration is one of the most difficult to pull off successfully having neither the guarantee of unanimity of pitch and perfect balance of a string quartet nor the security of pitch and deeper sonority offered by full string orchestra.

But, to its great credit, the group avoided the obvious pitfalls, playing with zest and great accuracy of pitch throughout the evening.

Highlights of the concert included Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, delivered with real tenderness; Majesty, an original piece by Jenkins, a wonderfully dignified and regal accompaniment to any processional occasion, for which it has now been used by Royalty several times; and Edward German’s Three Dances from Henry VIII, which brought the evening to a spirited close.

Less successful was The Rider, the oddity composed by Prince Albert. It sounded like the introduction and accompaniment to a Victorian music hall ditty, from which it could have been lifted, minus the bawdy vocal line. Someone should add the bawdy bit. Also, Jenkins’s arrangement of Sullivan’s Overture to The Yeomen of The Guard suffered from severe balance problems.

The all-important wind parts, being played sotto voce on the Roland keyboard, were effectively lost under a flurry of frenetic string activity, rendering any relationship to Sullivan’s original work difficult to detect.

The only other doubtful moment in an otherwise very enterprising concert came in Peter Maxwell Davies’s A Birthday card for Prince Charles.

The Scottish associations of this delightful piece were not hard to detect but its typically Scottish folk cross rhythms are probably best left to interpretation by typically Scottish folk fiddlers. There was some confusion in the ranks!

It is very sad that such an unusual and very enjoyable evening’s entertainment was played to an audience of fewer than 20 people.

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