Wigmore Hall

Music and Vision 2007

The Wigmore Hall, Britain's chamber music venue ne plus ultra, hosted the London Bridge Ensemble [5 June 2007], which performed a mixture of chamber music and song. In a programme which consisted entirely of music by nineteenth-century German composers, the ensemble chose such core works as Brahms' Piano Quartet No 1 and Schumann's Liederkreis.

While the rest of the music scene is moving towards innovation and renewal, drawing increasingly on multi-cultural music and new media, this concert at the Wigmore Hall rested comfortably with Romantic chamber music and song, which many in the audience would have been familiar with. Indeed, the fact that audience members at this hall are often acquainted with the works as well as the performers are, is both daunting and exciting.

Although the programme was conventional, the ensemble did not need to be apologetic. Their performance shone from beginning to end, producing endlessly beautiful sounds that defied the acoustics by ringing on in the air beyond the end of the pieces. Schumann's Piano Trio No 1 in D minor was performed with great commitment and tireless energy. The first movement was passionate, yet when the section with the cello harmonics arrived, the ensemble immediately created heavenly sound that was chilling in its power. The tricky scherzo movement that followed was executed with faultless ensemble, culminating in a gloriously uplifting finish, The slow movement began with an exceptionally moving violin solo, and continued to be sublime and intense in expression. The last movement is, from the compositional point of view, somewhat long-winded and structurally awkward. However, the ensemble gave a successful performance with their sheer energy and tonal resourcefulness.

Schumann had no such structural problems in his Liederkreis, Op 24. The musical expressions he wanted to convey also flowed out much more easily and concisely.

The change from the combination of piano trio to accompanied voice was very welcome, the transformation of sound and texture being an immense relief from the intensity of the piano trio. Indeed, it felt as if the voice that yearned to sing in Schumann's trio was finally given a human voice in the songs. Ivan Ludlow's powerful and beautiful voice was able both to illuminate the proud and masculine sides of this song cycle as well as to delve into the subtler semantics of the poems. The Welsh Folk Songs by Beethoven were equally successful. Unusually accompanied by piano, violin and cello, Beethoven arranged these songs for amateurs.

In the hands of these virtuosi, this simple music could not help but dance, fly and rejoice. For the audience it was thoroughly entertaining.

The final work, Brahms' Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor, had intense joy and life. The ensemble performed with a supreme sympathy for each other, which the audience by now had become accustomed to. There was a sense of unity and common purpose in their performance, which is the ideal of chamber music realised at its best.
It was a divine evening of music making.