Review: Kristian Bezuidenhout and Ensemble Marsyas

First published in The Herald on 7 July, 2014

Kristian Bezuidenhout/Ensemble Marsyas
St Monans Church, Fife

There’s nothing quite like Mozart played properly on a fortepiano. By ‘properly’ I don’t mean primly or safely; I mean fiercely, passionately, full of the sweet, clanging, kaleidoscopic noises that only a fortepiano (classical predecessor to the modern piano) can muster. The South African period-specialist Kristian Bezuidenhout is an exemplar here. In the close acoustics of the stern old kirk at St Monans, his performance of Mozart’s stormy Sonata in C minor K457 bristled with drama and bright colours – he made such a range of sounds through finger articulation alone that I found myself triple-checking that the instrument had no sustain pedal or soft pedal. There was a great sense of adventure to his volatile first movement; the expansive Adagio was rhapsodic, almost operatic, with Bezuidenhout really savouring the ever-darkening key shifts. He flew into the finale at breakneck speed and gave Beethovenian gravitas to the wild flashes of temper.

After a short break (the poor fortepiano needed retuning after such a magnificent battering) Bezuidenhout was joined by the Edinburgh-based Ensemble Marsyas. You’d be hard-set to find better period wind playing anywhere: this group contains the superbly sensitive clarinettist Nicola Boud, the brazenly colourful horn player Alec Frank-Gemmill and is led by the stylish, nut-warm playing of bassoonist Peter Whelan. Together their sound is gorgeously elegant and congenial. Though there can’t have been more than ten keys on their instruments combined, their intonation was flawless. Beethoven’s early Quintet in E-flat for piano and Winds Opus 16 can sound trite in lesser hands. Here its gentle elegance and playful poise were just right.