Review: Pixels Ensemble at the King’s Hall, January 16, 2019

PIXELS Ensemble are a group of instrumentalists who get together in a variety of combinations to enjoy making chamber music. For this concert, Ilkley welcomed a pianist, a string trio and Fiona Fulton (flute) and Hugh Webb (harp) to perform an intriguing programme combining Debussy’s last three sonatas with quartets by Mozart.

These final sonatas which Debussy wrote in 1915 are as remarkable in their way as Beethoven’s last quartets. You get the same feeling that a new kind of music is struggling to be born. In the cello sonata, both piano and cello (the excellent Jonathan Aasgaard) are more percussive than lyrical although short stretches of melody arise unbidden from their angry exchanges. The violin sonata in contrast is the more obviously virtuoso work: Sophia Rosa gave a dazzling performance with beautiful tone, lightness of touch where called for and dizzying facility in the madcap runs and trills of the final movement. In both these works, Ian Buckle was a perfect partner conjuring an amazing variety of tonal colours from the piano.

Forerunner of a whole repertoire, the sonata for flute viola and harp, is perhaps the most approachably French of the three, with its delightful minuet, but it too creates a new sound world of strange harmonies with the flute and viola (Vicci Wardman) eerily echoing each other, sometimes lyrical and sometimes savage, and the harp binding all together.

In the first half we also heard Mozart’s first flute quartet – the most beautiful tribute to an instrument which Mozart reportedly could not bear! This showcased the brilliant flute technique of Fiona Fulton, whose sweet light-toned playing made the most of the lyrical Adagio as well as the nimbler passages in the Rondeau finale. The second half started with the Françaix quintet, as ever with this composer both witty and well-made, and finished with Mozart’s first piano quartet, a piano concerto in all but name, Chris Skidmore