I was thrilled to hear of Divinity Quintet making a return to the Music Durham scene this epiphany term. Following an exceptional previous year for the ensemble, with a concert in Durham Cathedral’s Chapter House and outreach project based around The Carnival of the Animals, tonight’s performance was heavily anticipated. With oboist Catherine Walker as the only returning member, Divinity Quintet in 2019 are now also the flautist Ellie Holland, clarinettist Cam Wyke, french horn player Rob Hardyman and bassoonist Patrick Norén. In the intimate setting and acoustic of Hatfield Chapel, and with a beautifully crafted program of well-loved to less well-known repertoire, my expectations were high and I wasn’t disappointed; it was truly a great pleasure to see the emergence and developing cohesion of a new chamber ensemble of wind players.

The concert began with Jacques Ibert’s well known Trois Pièces Brèves. A strong fortissimo start was confidently led by clarinettist Cam Wyke and introduced the element of communication that is so crucial in a chamber music setting. The opening Allegro Scherzando showed great excitement and vitality with beautiful phrasing from oboist Catherine Walker and steady and sensitive accompaniment from bassoonist Patrick Norén. While I would have loved a greater dynamic range, and the ensemble’s daring regarding this element of musicality certainly improved as the concert progressed, intonation was solidly impeccable. With the Andante came the chance to first explore the individual tone of each musician. Needless to say, it was immediately apparent I was listening to some of the finest wind players in Durham. While intonation was slightly shaky in places, the beautiful duet between clarinet and flute, with a virtuosic attention to balance and phrasing, was of particular note. The closing Allegro was a cheerful finish with great sense of phrasing in the line passed between clarinet, flute and bassoon.  The physicality and body language in Wyke’s and Norén’s performances led the ensemble and I would love to see more of this sense of movement from the ensemble as a whole. Holland and Wyke handled virtuosic passages at the close of the piece with ease and a consistently beautiful and well-projected tone.

In the intimate setting and acoustic of Hatfield Chapel, and with a beautifully crafted program of well-loved to less well-known repertoire, my expectations were high and I wasn’t disappointed; it was truly a great pleasure to see the emergence and developing cohesion of a new chamber ensemble of wind players.

Following the Ibert, the audience were treated to Hindemith’s jovial and eccentric Kleine Kammermusik (Little Chamber Music) of 1922. Written in his later style of composition, avant-garde ‘new style’, the opening movement, Lustig Mässig schnelle Viertel, bustles with excitement and anticipation. Providing a much greater technical challenge than the Ibert, I would have loved to see more exploration of dynamics in the opening passages; perhaps this could be achieved with stronger communication and eye contact between players. That said, the the technical virtuosity of each musician was impressive.

Hardyman and Norén provided a skilfully balanced accompaniment in the eery Walzer of the second movement, working together with masterful musicality. Stronger communication between the whole ensemble could have lent this movement greater direction and intention, with more cohesive pushes and pulls in tempo which are so required for the waltz.

The third movement, Ruhig und einfach, was one of my highlights of the night. Dynamic range was emotive and mapped out masterfully with well measured crescendos. The unison passages between Holland and Wyke showed perfect intonation and and an attention to tone colour that interwove beautifully. The ensemble as a whole showed a great sense of phrasing to effect a sombre atmosphere and the fanfare accompaniment to the oboe solo, craftfully eery in its pianissimo, created the illusion of a faraway march. Walker and Norén’s duet passage showed fantastic control of balance and intonation, Hardyman’s horn fanfare created a great sense of grandiose and the mini cadenza in the flute boasted Holland’s beautiful lower range to great effect. The brief fourth movement, Schnelle Viertel, comprised short soloistic passages interlaced with incessant staccato tutti refrains. I would have liked to see more development of phrase between the solo passages as they move between instruments; perhaps the ensemble could have created a greater build to the final solo in the French horn. That said, the tutti passages showed fantastic articulation and unison and this continued into the final movement in a confident, lively and grandiose finish.

Walker and Norén’s duet passage showed fantastic control of balance and intonation, Hardyman’s horn fanfare created a great sense of grandiose and the mini cadenza in the flute boasted Holland’s beautiful lower range to great effect.

The final piece of the night was August Klughardt’s Quintet in C-Major. A less well-known composer, the quintet is his most renowned and performed work to the present day. A fantastic contrast to the Hindemith, the opening movement showed the ensemble’s confidence in handling rich and romantic harmonies and long Wagnerian melodic lines. Norèn displayed the huge range of the bassoon with beautiful execution, during the Allegro non Troppo, of glorious rising melodies; following his performance, I can’t wait to hear him play Weber’s Bassoon concerto with DUCE next term. The ensemble as a whole played with the appropriate sensitivity demanding of a romantic piece, and melodic echoes were phrased consistently and professionally.  The Allegro Vivace had a charming and bouncy lightness of touch and, in the Andante, Hardyman showed a lovely sense of line in his solo passages; he can certainly have more confidence with his entries and come out of the ensemble’s texture more. Another of my highlights of the night was in this Andante, in the beautiful falling and rising scalic passage shared by clarinet and flute; it is surely a sign of exceptional wind playing when the transition between instruments, with a phrase that is passed from one to the other, is so seamless it is almost impossible to recognise when one instrument finishes playing and the other begins. The final Allegro Molto Vivace, technical and study-like, provided a fantastic finale. While communication may have lapsed in some of the particularly tricky passages, the quintet saved their fortissimo until the closing bars in a truly professional fashion.

All in all, the concert was a fantastic start of the year for Divinity Quintet, with each individual’s musicality promising great things for the ensemble as they continue to play together.  I strongly recommend keeping up to date with what such a talented ensemble do next!