Guest review: Ensemble Lunaire – bright with promise

by Madelaine Jones

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There is so much orchestral repertoire which is often banished to the realm of the giant concert hall, and the more intimate experience of being able to see the faces of the musicians providing us with such wonderful music is far too often lost. My first visit to Lanterns Theatre Studio, a spacious gem tucked away in the heart of Docklands, provided me with the chance to get acquainted with some deliciously close-up orchestral works at the premiere performance of Ensemble Lunaire. Composed of both graduate musicians and those still studying at conservatoires, the chamber orchestra was formed earlier this year, guided by the interpretative hand of conductor Christopher Atkinson.

The programme started with Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. The acoustic proved absolutely perfect from the outset with the opening flute solo (played by Lindsay Bryden) blooming beautifully in the boomy, giving space of the hall. Washes of colour from the harp shone brilliantly, pizzicatos bouncing around the strings with a keen sensitivity in both orchestra and conductor alike, creating an instantly atmospheric scene. The overlap of various melodic strands was not always brought across to the audience quite strongly enough, as if the orchestra had yet to settle down enough to push their own and each other’s boundaries to the limits, but on the whole, the tonal palette and imaginative interpretation within the structure of the piece was impressive, and the ensemble showed promise even at this early point in the programme.

For the concerto item, we were treated to not one but two performers with sibling soloists Iain and Mark Gibbs, on violin and viola respectively, performing Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat, K. 364. The grand, yet exuberant opening showed – excuse the pun – another string to the ensemble’s bow, flurries of tremolos and scales excitedly humming and swooping over the full-bodied, rich orchestral sound. Soloists Iain and Mark proved themselves to be in no way daunted by such an animated orchestra, and held the stage with poise and an understated confidence which was refreshing. It was easy to see from the outset that the pair were used to playing with each other (they also form two thirds of the Gibbs trio along with their sister) from the ease with which they exchanged musical material, playing with and passing it between themselves with no disjointedness and yet with entirely different personal touches, Iain being a shade more extroverted and Mark more introspective. Their exchanges had the qualities of a debate, measured and yet intense, as opposed to the fraught, argumentative scrubbing we occasionally get with more egotistic, over-enthusiastic soloists: the cadenza of the Allegro maestoso was particularly remarkable, each one grazing harmonies cheekily as the other whisked through fingerfuls of notes without even blinking. The Andante proved marginally less successful as a whole, the strength of connection between soloists and orchestra a little less focused than in the first movement, but the pulsing string accompaniment with yearning solo lines was still well-shaped and musically presented. The third movement was a return to the spectacularly triumphant feel of the first, and soloists and orchestra garnered a rather hefty bout of applause, and deservedly so.

The second half of the concert was dedicated to something a little different: a collaboration between dance and music for a performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, suite for 13 instruments, with new choreography was by Thea Stanton and Alicia Meehan. I am most certainly not a dancer (nor will I pretend to know much about dancing, for fear of being lynched by those who do) but as an engaged and interested audience member, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the offering from all angles, as a piece of collaborative art and as pieces of music and dance respectively. The musical interpretation was full of character, swapping from more melodic sections to impulsive bursts in split-second switches and not a hint of any difficulty. The accompanying choreography gelled with the music wonderfully, and all four female performers (I did say it was a spacious performance space!) handled the material with individuality and flair. As one cohesive unit, both musicians and dancers interacted with assurance, and invested their whole selves into what turned out to be another rapturous-applause-reaping item ending a thoroughly enjoyable programme, and a wonderful first outing for the new ensemble.

www.christopheratkinsonpianist.com

 

Madelaine Jones is a London-based pianist and writer. She was the winner of the Gladys Puttick Extemporisation Competition 2012 along with duo partner and dancer Adam Russell, and was awarded an LCM London Schools and Teachers Award in 2011. Madelaine also has a passion for ensemble playing, duetting with soloists and working with choirs from an early age: her choral accompaniment experience has included working alongside the BBC Singers, the Medway Singers and the Walderslade Primary School Choir. Madelaine has a particular interest in early keyboard music and instruments, previously studying harpsichord with James Johnstone via an Early Music Scholarship at Trinity Laban. She has performed as a harpsichordist and chamber organist with the Trinity Laban Baroque Orchestra and Vocal Ensemble in the Greenwich International Early Music Festival.

 As a soloist, Madelaine is a previous winner of the Medway Young Musicians Awards, and the under-16s category of the Kent Messenger’s Focus competition, judged by Jools Holland. She has also participated in masterclasses with numerous renowned keyboardists, including Cristina Ortiz, Richard Meyrick and Ronan O’Hora. At present, Madelaine is currently attending Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, studying piano and improvisation with Penelope Roskell and Douglas Finch respectively.

Madelaine is also a keen writer. A regular guest-poster for this blog and Zeitschichten, she has also reviewed for Bachtrack.com. She was a winning entrant in the Foyle Young Poets Awards 2008, and has since been published in e-zines and magazines such as Pomegranate and Popshot.

www.madelainejones.co.uk