Cappa Ensemble


Coach House, Dublin Castle

Mozart – Piano Quartet in G minor

Walton – Piano Quartet

Elaine Agnew – Three Angry Men

Schumann – Piano Quartet in E flat

The Music Network’s Young Musicwide scheme is a professional development project through which a young ensemble wins mentoring and career development opportunities over a period of three years.

The 2009 winners were the Cappa Ensemble – Bartosz Woroch (violin), Adam Newman (viola), Brian O’Kane (cello), Michael McHale (piano). They made their first Dublin appearance on Tuesday as the second stop on an eight-venue nationwide tour.

Their programme was substantial and wide-ranging. It may have been written by a group of composers with the same average age as the players – 26 – but it drew in two of the greatest-ever piano quartets, Mozart’s from the 18th century and Schumann’s from the 19th, and also added works from either end of the 20th, an early and little-known piano quartet by William Walton, and Elaine Agnew’s early string trio, Three Angry Men.

The playing in the Mozart was well-mannered and dutiful. There were a few very explicit gestures to period performance norms, and some moments where the musicians took the appropriate liberty of decorating Mozart’s text. But, mostly, the music didn’t really come off the page, and some of the violin-playing was decidedly off-colour.

Walton’s Piano Quartet is a melting-pot of teenage ambition, often overblown in expression, driving to the edge and beyond, absorbing influences from a wide range of sources as well as suggesting some rhythmic routes the mature Walton would later follow. The Cappa’s performance sought to be as over-the-top as the piece itself.

Like the Walton, Three Angry Menis a student work, written in 1991 when Agnew was a post-graduate at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. The material is pared back, and treated to discordant, choppy exchanges between the instruments, with contrast provided by running passages. It’s as if the piece’s energy is provided by something that’s struggling to burst out, but never does. The quiet resolution remains a puzzle, somewhere between a non-sequitur and an afterthought.

The Cappa’s performance was persuasive. But they kept their best until the end. In Schumann’s Piano Quartet, it was as if the lights had come on. Everything worked. There was subtlety and power in the playing, and an easy give-and-take not apparent elsewhere. This was the kind of spot-on performance that must have brought them their Young Musicwide success in the first place.

On tour until Monday