Harmoniemusik at St Gabriel’s

harmoniemusik.jpg
Janna Hüneke, flute
Sarah Devonald, oboe
Mark Lacey, clarinet
Geoffrey Pearce, horn
Alec Forshaw, bassoon
Paul Guinery, piano

I have known, and played with, members of the wind-based group Harmoniemusik for a long time – in the case of Alec, the bassoonist, for longer than I care to recall (39 years, I guess).  So I always try to get to their concerts if I can.  Last night’s was at another venue new to me – St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico.  It was part of The Seven Series, a series of… er… seven concerts, featuring ‘a mixture of established professionals and some of the most exciting new talent of today’.  Not quite sure how Harmoniemusik fits in to this – ‘exciting old talent’ perhaps?  (sorry!)  The semi-pro (or semi-amateur) group was founded in 1991 after playing together on board a Mediterranean cruise ship, and has recently given concerts in France, Belgium and Germany, as well a regular gig in Cornwall.  They have just released their second CD.

Large Victorian churches are not the most suitable places for chamber music – tending to be cavernous, echoey, COLD!, uncomfortable, and lacking good sightlines;  if, as in this case, you have two rows of pews with a wide central aisle, there is nowhere from which anyone can have a decent view of the whole ensemble.  However, this was part of ‘Gabriel Arts’, an umbrella set-up based on the church, evidently with an enthusiastic local audience;  peripheral attractions included wine, cheese and an art exhibition (buy now or leave a sealed bid…).

The concert kicked off with Bozza’s Trois pièces pour une musique de nuit – one of those wispy French pieces difficult to bring off with non-French players, but they did a fine and evocative job.  Then Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Wind, K452, which Mozart himself thought ‘the best work I have ever written’, and it is certainly a sublime treat.  Pianist was Paul Guinery, better known as one of the voices of BBC Radio 3.  A heart-warming performance, with tempi that felt just right – not too slow, none of that snail-on-a-piece-of-elastic catching up at recapitulations.  Lovely wind solos, fine piano playing;  a word, too, for the piano, a hundred-year-old Steinway with a soft but carrying tone that almost sounded as if it could have been a Viennese fortepiano of Mozart’s day.

The second half began in semi-darkness, out of which emerged Janna Hüneke, faun-like in a patch of light far up by the altar, playing Debussy’s Syrinx (for solo flute) as beautifully as I have ever heard it – gorgeous gradations of tone, silences that were as eloquent as the notes, and a long held last note that faded away into eternity.  Pure magic.

Glinka’s Trio pathétique (clarinet, bassoon and piano) suffered by comparison, sounding too much like fluffy salon music (though, to be fair, Glinka was (a) Russian and (b) very young at the time he wrote it!).  All three players – particularly Mark Lacey on clarinet – enjoyed their ‘diva moments’ in the slow movement.  

The concert ended with a rarity, the Sextet for Piano and Wind by Joseph Jongen (1873-1953).  It’s always nice to discover new works for this combination.  A one-movement Spanish caprice by a Belgian – whatever next?  If the ultimate impression was somewhat rackety and unfocused, if energetic and colourful, this was the fault of the piece, not the players, who flung themselves into it with immense commitment and abandon.

A nice evening.  And Janna Hüneke’s Syrinx will reverberate in the memory for a long time to come – a very special experience.

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