We will remember this 5th of November for a well-plotted programme of music beginning with the overture from Handel’s ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’ in which I rather missed the trumpets and drums. After this the music briefly had to contend with whizz-bangs from outside, or was it the Drama department advertising next week’s ‘Noises Off’? The musicians (Philip Scriven, Kevin Weaver and Jayne Spencer) were not put off by these sounds as they were concentrating on their own mellifluous output in the rarely heard Suite for organ, violin and ’cello by Rheinberger. This Vaduz-born composer flourished in Munich and wrote in 1890 that “Music is above words; it begins where words no longer suffice, therefore it would be futile to attempt to bring music closer to listeners by means of explanation”. However, for those unable to attend this concert I will just write that the first movement was gloriously Schumannesque; the second Brahmsian, in which the string players blended so well that one would love to hear them in the Brahms Double Concerto; the Sarabande was hauntingly Dvorakian; and the finale began like one of Rheinberger’s 20 organ sonatas but when the strings entered it was as if Mendelssohn was anticipating Elgar.
After the interval we were treated to three of Mozart’s Epistle Sonatas, cleverly chosen to make a satisfying sequence, with a breezy C major leading to an insouciant F major, returning to the concerto-like C major K 366. Here Philip Scriven was joined by Kevin and Jayne and also Kevin’s wife Leena-Maria, though the quartet seemed on the verge of being a quintet as she is currently (to use Philip’s phrase) “heavy with child.” The full complement of strings returned for the rest of the evening: bassist Caroline Harding and hero violist Mark Chivers, who saved the concert at 24 hours’ notice as Virginia Slater’s car had broken down in Scotland. Albinoni’s ‘Adagio’ is actually by musicologist Giazotto but has a unique appeal still and Kevin Weaver’s passionate fiddling was not too gypsy-like in the cadenza-style section. Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’ is genuine, albeit little-known in his own lifetime and Kevin Weaver told me he preferred not to add the companion gigue with which the composer coupled it, as it is anti-climactic. It was good to hear this piece live and at the tempo giusto: not indulgent but not so fast that the decorative sections lost shape; this was an ineffably irresistible performance with the two bass line musicians in perfect synchronicity and clearly enjoying every minute. We ended with a Handel concerto, written as an interlude for ‘Athalia’ and originally with a Hallelujah chorus added to the last movement. This is the concerto (op 4/4) with the insistent ‘Bobby Shaftoe’ theme in the first movement, and a soothing andante in which the Mander organ seemed most at home with Philip Scriven’s beautifully chosen registers and stops. As a child this was the night for baked potatoes, parkin, Catherine wheels and rip-raps but for an old man the distant lure of rockets and bangers seemed less of a siren song than the music-making of these six fine musicians.