The Week Ahead: Iffley Chamber Music

Coming up at the end of this week is the Iffley Music Society’s Weekend Festival (Fri 14th- Sun 16th). All of the events will feature the Schubert Ensemble of London, a leading chamber music group who celebrated their 30th anniversary last year. The programme for Friday evening consists of two stalwarts of the piano trio repertoire: Dvořák’s ‘Dumky Trio and Schubert’s Second Piano Trio (Fri 14th, 7:30pm, Iffley Church Hall). In Dvořák’s Trio, the Czech composer stepped away from the traditional formal procedures of Western musical tradition to shape an idiosyncratic work inspired by folk music, contrasting brooding Slavic laments with more light-hearted moments. Schubert’s Second Trio is amongst the series of great instrumental works produced in the year before his death in 1828. This Trio is perhaps best known for the gorgeous theme of its second movement, one of many such moments in Schubert’s output that seem to evoke a lonely tread across an abandoned winter landscape.

Schubert Ensemble of London
Schubert Ensemble of London

On Saturday evening, this versatile group of players expand their numbers to tackle Fauré’s Piano Quartet no. 1 and Brahms’s Piano Quartet no. 1 (Sat 15th, 7:30pm, Iffley Church Hall). This programme will also feature talented British composer Huw Watkins’s Piano Quartet (2012) and will be prefaced by an ‘afternoon encounter’ with members of the Schubert Ensemble of London, discussing and performing excerpts from the pieces to be performed that evening (Sat 15th, 2:30pm, Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, St Hilda’s College). Finally, the festival culminates in a solo recital given by pianist William Howard, founder of the Schubert Ensemble of London, surveying Romantic miniatures by Schumann, Janáček, Dvořák, Fauré and Chopin, as well as giving a performance of David Matthews’s Four Portraits, a work written for this pianist in 2013 (Sun 16th, 3:00pm, Iffley Church Hall). David Matthews, the brother of Colin Matthews, who is also a notable composer, will be present to discuss the piece.

Another fascinating chamber music event on Iffley Road this weekend is the The Chamber Players – Transfigured Night (Sun 16th, 6:00pm, St John the Evangelist). Hearing Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (‘Transfigured Night’), composed in 1899, for the first time may be something of a surprise for those who associate the composer’s name with the austerity of his atonal and serial styles. This important early work is suffused in the rich chromaticism of a post-Wagnerian idiom, a debt that was recognised as early as the 1902 première where the harsh critical response was characterised by the famous witticism that ‘it sounds as if someone had smeared the score of Tristan while it was still wet’. Today, though, the work is fascinating in its presentation of a very different side to Schoenberg than our received picture of the composer and is richly expressive in its own right. This piece, marked by a typically fin-de-siècle combination of eroticism and deep-rooted anxiety and neuroticism, will be paired with the more reserved First String Sextet by Brahms, a composer idolised by Schoenberg.

G. Masters

For more information about concerts featured, please visit the Iffley Music Society homepage, and the St John the Evangelist website.

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