The first half of this concert in the Nash Ensemble's current Around Schubert series was dominated by the gaunt presence and fierce delivery of the distinguished baritone Wolfgang Holzmair. A little too gaunt and fierce, perhaps, for the sprightlier of the Beethoven arrangements of British folksongs with which he began though "The Pulse of an Irishman", with its frisky piano-trio vampings, took off nicely enough.
Far more appropriate were the six Heine settings, five of them darkly despairing, from the Schwanengesang collection of late Schubert songs, put together after his death and heard here in a new arrangement for nine players by David Matthews. Some worked better than others: the proto-Wagnerian progressions of "Der Atlas" had one hankering for a full orchestra; and Holzmair's sound, still noble in mezza voce, tended to harshness under pressure. But in the terrifying "Der Doppelgänger", Matthews' imaginative alternation of dark string and wind sonorities, and Holzmair's mounting intensity stunned a packed house.
In between we had a rarity: the Grand Septet in D by Ignaz Moscheles, a friend of Mendelssohn and purveyor of genial salon works. This one was more miniature piano concerto than true chamber music. While Ian Brown rippled away decoratively, the other instruments had little in the way of solos or thematic give-andtake. And though the textures of its four classically constructed movements glowed, none of its melodies stuck in the mind.
Even the most cursory first-time listener to Schubert's Piano Trio in B flat could hardly escape unobsessed by its many tunes. Admittedly, this is partly because Schubert finds so many ingenious ways of repeating them in the leisurely unfolding of a score that so radiantly resists the encroaching darkness of much of his later music. Yet, often as these players have tackled it, their reading came up fresh as fresh, with violinist Marianne Thorsen and cellist Paul Watkins playfully imitating one another's tones and phrasings in their close dialogues, while Brown kept the piano part spinning along with delectable lightness.