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The Helix Ensemble are a rarity

THE Helix Ensemble is a flexible group of three dozen musicians, and a rarity in amateur music making.

THE Helix Ensemble is a flexible group of three dozen musicians, and a rarity in amateur music making.

Founded in 1992, they perform unfamiliar repertoire alongside traditional works, and bring different professional conductors to each programme.

Their Parish Church concert under David Murphy was typically full of connections, with Mozart and Salieri, Corelli and Tippett, and Beethoven to finish.

So we had Mozart's overture to Idomeneo and Salieri's to La Grotta di Trofonio. It was a clever pairing. The Idomeneo overture is tragic in mood but not as memorable as, say, Don Giovanni, and ends almost in mid-air as if the stage action is beginning.

After a solemn opening, Salieri's overture bounces along merrily, ear-catching but not sticking in the mind. It is hardly Beethoven, whom he taught, yet with excellent playing it had more impact here than the Mozart.

Between these came Corelli's Concerto Grosso No.2 from his Op.6, published in 1714. Corelli may not have invented the form but his 12 concerti grossi are the earliest to be regularly played, music of dignity and beauty from which so much instrumental repertoire derives. The string band and solo group realised No.2 with moving sensitivity.

Tippett's Fantasia Concertante on a theme of Corelli takes its material from this concerto. Sargent declined the first performance in 1953 because of its complexity, so the rest of us can be excused if we are fazed on first hearing it. The trouble is that Tippett invests in so much elaborate figuration, like a cloud of bees.

But with familiarity the piece acquires a haunting quality, as if we are hearing the ghost of Corelli's music. The Helix play-ers, three soloists and two string bands, went a long way towards capturing the spirit, if without the last word in characterisation.

So to Beethoven's Symphony No.8, his 'little F major' to distinguish it from the Pastoral. No.8 is little only in length. It is compact, extrovert, tightly argued and ultimately serious.

David Murphy drove the performance hard, even too hard in the second half of the finale, where he appeared to raise the tempo. Here and there the balance was worrying, the winds submerging the melody in the third movement trio, for instance, and again in the finale. But the urgency of it all was the great reward. Emmanuel next time, please?

 

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