The week in classical: Classical Vauxhall; L’Heure Espagnole – review | Classical music


Shostakovich composed his Piano Quintet in G minor in the summer of 1940. This youthful work has an unfettered lightness, as if capturing a windless moment before a storm: the USSR was about to be invaded by Nazi Germany. Stark yet shadowy, intense but song-like, it was chosen by pianist Fiachra Garvey and the Navarra String Quartet as one of two works in the opening concert of Classical Vauxhall 2021. This mini-festival of four events filmed live at St Mark’s church, a stone’s throw from Kennington’s Oval cricket ground, also featured saxophonist Jess Gillam, tenor Nicky Spence and others keen to see “classical done differently”, to use the festival slogan.

That difference lies in the freshness of presentation and attitude, not in the quality of performance, which is uniformly high. Garvey, festival co-director, and his quartet colleagues caught the strange, airborne simplicity of the Shostakovich. In Beethoven’s early Opus 18, No 2, the Navarras showed wit and agility, reminding us precisely why the string quartet medium is likened to a “conversation”, here additionally full of Viennese bows and curtsies, beautifully suggested by the players. The Vauxhall series is available free to watch (donations invited to support a local youth programme) until 17 April.

Having already created a chilling filmed version of Britten’s Owen Wingrave, Grange Park Opera has turned its zany ingenuity on Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnole, directed by Stephen Medcalf with musical direction by Chris Hopkins (free to watch online). This short comedy is set in the workshop of a clockmaker, Torquemada, who is oblivious to the dalliances of his charming young wife. Her farcical shenanigans are determined by tickings, chimes and manoeuvres with grandfather clocks. Accordingly, GPO took over an antique clock shop in London’s Kensington Church Street and swapped an orchestra for piano with noises off, and on, from minimal percussion and brass. The cast – Ashley Riches, Catherine Backhouse, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Ross Ramgobin – wound each other up and down with timely precision.


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