Review / Small ensemble plays like big orchestra

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SURPRISES were the order of the night for this concert, and the art of musical transcription was on full show in every aspect through the arrangements of these literary classics. 

Sabine Meyer. Photo by Keith Saunders.
From an old story by Voltaire, titled “Candide”, which was transcribed into music by Leonard Bernstein, the concert began with the overture to his operetta arranged by Ital Sobol, performed by just the Alliage Quintett. This still young music, even though composed in 1956, sounded sparkling and carnival-like.

Sabine Myer, one of the world’s most renowned instrumental soloists, on her many clarinets, and the Alliage Quintett that consists of Daniel Gauthier, soprano saxophone, Hayrapet Arakelyan, alto saxophone, Simon Hanrath, tenor saxophone, Sebastian Pottmeier, baritone saxophone and Jang Eun Bae on piano, performed with brilliant accuracy and colour throughout every piece in this concert titled “Fantasia”.

For “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas, Sabine Myer joined the quintett. This popular piece and its quirky nature set it apart in the musical world, especially when it is arranged for such a unique combination of instruments. This group can sound like a full orchestra rather than a small ensemble, and they produced a tone that brought out the full colour of this musical masterpiece.

For some reason, the group decided to break up “Five Pieces” by Shostakovich into the first and second half of the concert. Beginning with “The Gadfly” and then a “Gavotte” from his “Ballet Suite No 3”, arranged by Levon Atovmyan, they broke down the ensemble into a trio that changed voices throughout each movement. The wonderfully languid, flowing style of music still sounded full, even though there were only three players.

“Scaramouche” by Darius Milhaud and arranged by Sebastian Pottmeier was in three movements. The first titled “Vif” with the tempo of quick, was certainly that. The pianist Jang Eun Bae was kept busy in this charming and exuberant piece that was full of drive and subtlety. To wind it up a “Brazileria” sambaed its way to a joyful and upbeat finale.

After the interval, Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Concert Suite for Orchestra No2”, arranged by Sebastian Gottschick began with many dark tones that fitted the baritone saxophone. The flurry of notes that followed suited the higher wind instruments, but every one of the five movements was led brilliantly well by the pianist who held everything together in spectacular fashion.

Then it was on to the final three movements of the Shostakovich “Five Pieces’, which had an “Elegy”, a “Waltz” and a short and sprightly “Polka” as its final movement.

I couldn’t wait to hear what the group were going to do with the “Polovtsian Dances” by Alexander Borodin. The six members made this large orchestral and choral work sound just like the real thing, even though there was no choir, strings or percussion.  

Meyer’s playing in this and every piece shows just why she is regarded as one of the world’s best. The small things she does like flicking her left hand off her instrument to add emphasis to a note shows someone entirely attuned to their instrument.

This was an original and outstanding concert, and the Llewellyn Hall never sounded better. But, of course, an encore, and it had to be “America” from Bernstein’s “West Side Story”, and they smashed it.

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