First up in the 2014–15 season on Thursday October 2nd was the London Concertante, a flexible group fronted by cellist Chris Grist, which has metamorphosed from a chamber group to an opera orchestra and back again and whose eclectic and often novel repertoire extends from the baroque to the contemporary. For their Chichester concert the group fielded seven players: two violins, two violas, cello, clarinet and horn. Each of the four works they performed was for a different combination.
The first was a Mozart quintet for the unusual grouping of horn, violin, two violas and cello, written at the start of the serious involvement with string quartet writing that produced his revolutionary six quartets dedicated to Haydn. Two violas allow a rich accompaniment that a horn can float over and still be clearly heard, and Peter Francomb's masterly playing was certainly worth hearing: firm of tone and beautifully phrased.
The next work was a fascinating novelty: a sextet for horn, clarinet and string quartet composed by the 19-year old John Ireland as a student under Stanford at the Royal College of Music – it is the only known piece for this combination. The clarinettist Thea King learned of its existence when visiting the 80–year old Ireland in a converted windmill near Chanctonbury Ring; she persuaded him to take it out of the drawer and let it be performed. Anna–Liisa Bezrodny led the sextet with enthusiastic conviction drawing from them a fine performance of an intriguing work. The young Ireland exploited well the varied combinations of instruments that the sextet offers, though he had yet to break away completely with his own voice from the sound–world of Brahms.
The second half of the concert opened with one of the few pieces for string quartet that Puccini wrote – his heart was in opera. His short elegy on the death of the Duke of Savoy, Crisantemi, was played with just the right amount of poignant rubato to warm the audience for the main work of the evening: Mozart's clarinet quintet. Here clarinetist Tom Lessels played superbly. His rich tone and seemingly infinite supply of breath produced, particularly in the slow movement, a melodic line of great beauty. Less successful for the group as a whole were finer points of balance – for instance, Bezrodny’s extreme pianissimos were sometimes difficult to hear. Well–earned, enthusiastic applause from the near capacity audience delivered a contrasting encore – an arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion, played with style.