CLASSICAL: Ambache Chamber Ensemble Wigmore Hall London ooo99

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The Independent Culture
THE PIANIST Diane Ambache specialises in presenting music by women composers. In her latest chamber recital at the Wigmore, she included British premieres by two, both French: Louise Farrenc, whose career spanned the mid-19th century, and Germaine Tailleferre, the only female member of the 20th-century group, Les Six. Mozart and Jean Francaix occupied the rest of the programme.

Salle de Jeux, the programme was called: funding by the technology merchant bank Interregnum secured a good-sized audience for a diverting evening, with entertaining spoken introductions from each of the five experienced musicians in turn.

Farrenc (1804-75) was admired by Schumann and was herself a Mendelssohn enthusiast; her D-Minor Piano Trio of 1850 reveals the influence of both composers. It's well written for this (in certain respects) difficult combination of piano and two stringed instruments, and it explores a familiar mid-19th-century German style, with a secure grip on its expected musical forms. But neither the trio's material nor its treatment is memorable, and I wouldn't rush to hear it again.

Ambache performed this piece, as she did everything else on this evening, with the piano lid fully open. This allowed us to hear some virtuosic playing, dispatched with panache if not all that much finesse; but, combined with the considerable bloom of the hall's acoustic, it made bass textures thick and heavy. And it would have exacerbated the balance problems between piano and strings too, were it not for the fact that Gabrielle Lester and Judith Herbert's contributions were pretty meaty in themselves.

This line-up also offered Mozart's E-Major Piano Trio in a laudably unsentimental but sometimes pedestrian performance. Ambache's approach to the slow movement's main theme typified the problem: initially heavy and plain, and never really allowed to grow and develop. The oboist Jeremy Polmear and the viola player Martin Outram joined Lester and Herbert for an account of Mozart's Oboe Quartet that was similarly quite beefy; Polmear relished his second movement cadenza, but wasn't always on top of the finale's rather fearsome roulades.

The other work by a woman composer here was Tailleferre's Sonate Champetre, written in the mid-1970s. While scarcely plumbing many depths and riddled with Stravinskian neo-classical trademarks, this piece - for oboe and piano, originally clarinet and bassoon, played here by viola and cello - has some intriguingly smudged harmonies and an oddly lumpy but effective piano part (at least it seemed deliberate this time).

The performers caught the idiom and technical demands here better than they had in Francaix's Quartet for cor anglais and string trio, which suffered from poor intonation and, in the slow movement, a lack of sultry Gallic spirit.

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