Pelleas Ensemble Review

A large and appreciative audience at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake was treated to a lovely concert last Sunday by the Pelleas Ensemble. Comprising Luba Tunnicliffe (Viola); Oliver Wass (Harp) and Henry Roberts (Flute), this was music-making of very high quality indeed.

The varied and thoughtful programme gave each of the musicians the opportunity to showcase their own technical and musical skills, in the context of exceptional ensemble playing. Impressively they all played from memory for much of the concert, which clearly allows them to focus on communicating musically with each other, and with the listeners.

Appropriately for Remembrance Sunday the concert started with Bax’s Elegiac Trio, composed during the Great War but using languid folk-inspired melodies to hark back to a more peaceful era. This featured some beautifully judged interplay between the delicate flute and the glorious tone from the viola.

Next was Oliver Wass playing his own arrangements for harp of some movements from the original piano score of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and drawing to a degree on Ravel’s orchestrations. This was played with technical brilliance and great interpretation, leaving some of us wanting the whole arc of the work rather than just the movements selected.

The first half ended with a very accessible modern work, Twisted Elegy by Richard Bissell. It looks back to British chamber music of the 20th century and is full of dreamy melodic passages interspersed with more agitated sections, and with the trio’s committed and communicative playing this work really should find a regular place in the concert repertoire.

Showing their versatility and musicality across different genres, the second half opened with a delightful and characterful arrangement of Gershwin’s Foggy Day/Love Walked In.
Then came a trio sonata by Couperin. This was originally scored for harpsichord continuo, but to this modern listener it sounded much more interesting with a harp providing great variety of tone and mood in support of the brilliant interweaving of the flute and violin, which Luba played equally impressively in this work.

The juxtaposition of this with the final work in the concert; Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin was imaginative programming. As well as looking back to the baroque era, in each of the five movements Ravel creates musical portraits of friends who had fallen in the Great War. And whilst these are usually heard as a piano solo, or in Ravel’s own full orchestra version, the Pelleas Ensemble showed they work particularly well as trio arrangements, with the individuals’ characters being brought out with playing of great sensitivity and precise interplay in the different movements.

The trio clearly love playing music together and sharing their enjoyment of a wide spectrum of music, and that came across strongly in a performance of delightful music-making by three very fine young musicians who we can expect to hear more of in the future.