REVIEW by Spencer Allman

DAY two of this year’s Wye Valley Chamber Music Festival, established in 2000, was devoted to French chamber music. The venue was the Bishop’s Palace, Hereford.

The second of two concerts comprised Fauré’s Piano Trio and Ravel’s String Quartet, performed by different groups of young individuals, some fairly seasoned, some barely out of college.

You would not have known. The level of musicianship was stunning.

Fauré’s chamber music spanned his lifetime, and its sheer inventiveness and exquisite beauty make one wonder why it is so neglected. The later pieces lie cheek by jowl with the modernist trends that were emerging in Europe in the early 20th century, and yet – like Elgar – it is not out of time. Rather, it marks the end of an era.

This is very much the essence of the Trio, written just before the composer’s death, and its sublime middle movement with its rapturous, intertwining lines.

The sensuousness of the music was captured on this occasion by Sara and Marie Bitlloch, the French-Catalan sisters on violin and cello respectively, and both members of the Elias String Quartet, while co-artistic director, Daniel Tong, sensitively provided the piano part.

The sense of warmth was continued in the Quartet in F by Ravel, this time by a different line-up of young musicians. Its sultry, bluesy strains were in stark contrast to the dark chill of a January evening outside. Parts of the pizzicato section of the scherzo – admittedly hard to bring off – seemed to lack force, or, by contrast, were sometimes over-emphatic. The rest was superb.

The players truly enchanted the audience, as they confidently cruised through the four movements of the work, from the serene, almost Schubertian opening, via the jazzy scherzo and languorous slow section, to the technically terrifying finale, which was dealt with deftly and a degree of flair that belied their age.

Music festivals in winter are something of a rarity, so long may the Wye Valley January event thrive.

This one ends on Sunday January 17, and is a virtual sell-out.