The Warehouse, 26 November 2017
The Monteverdi Apprentice programme gives young musicians, on the verge of entering the profession, the chance to spend a year working alongside experienced professionals from the Monteverdi stable, with opportunities for performing as ensemble members or soloists with the various groups under the Monteverdi umbrella. The scheme started in 2007, initially for singers only. It runs every other year and, with one exception, alternates singers with string players. For the 2016/17 cohort, nine instrumentalists were chosen from around 100 applications. This was their final recital together, although many of them will be performing in the two forthcoming Monteverdi Bach cantata tours.
Reflecting the differentiation between the two Monteverdi orchestras, they started with Bach and Biber, the opening Brandenburg 3 requiring two of their mentors to fill the gaps in the line-up. With its trio of violins, violas, and cellos, (plus guest performers on double bass and harpsichord continuo) this was an excellent choice to give all the players a chance to show their individual mettle as well as their ability to play in consort. It was led by one of the apprentices, violinist Jenna Sherry, who added a commendably brief flourish to the two curious chords that Bach gives to link the two movements together. Biber’s descriptively fun Battalia was introduced and led by fellow violinist Gabrielle Maas.
A change of instruments and bows led to works from the early Romantic period, represented by first movements from three ever-increasingly sized consorts, starting with Mendelssohn’s Quartet 2 in A minor (Op.13). This was led by one of the mentors, along with Gabrielle Maas, violin, Monika Grimm, viola, and Mátyás Virág, cello, all showing an impressive understanding of the experimental ideas of the early Romantic era. Mendelssohn was 18 when he composed this, his first mature quartet. It was written shortly after the death of Beethoven and includes several references to the late quartets, as well as some elements from the world of opera.
A cellist mentor joined Jenna Cherry and Johanna Radoy, violins, Monika Grimm, viola, and Bianca Riesner, cello, for Schubert’s Quintet in C (D.956). This was composed just before Schubert’s death, and reflects his inner turmoil in an expansive and emotionally intense first movement. Lasting about 20 minutes, this was a big ask for the young performers, which they coped with magnificently. Amongst many key moments, I was particularly impressed by the beautifully timed pizzicato passages played by Monika Grimm and Bianca Riesner: seemingly very simple notes, but nonetheless critical. Second violinist Johanna Radoy also had some key moments in the complex texture.
The final piece brought all seven apprentices together (one violinist was not appearing) along with one of the mentors for the first movement of Mendelssohn’s E flat Octet (Op.20). It was written when Mendelssohn was just 16, but revised a few years later. He stated that the Octet should be played in a “symphonic orchestral style”, so this provided a perfect training experience for the apprentices, much of whose playing will be with orchestras, rather than small chamber groups.
The only members of the scheme that I haven’t had the chance to mention in the comments on the pieces are Elisabeth Sordia, viola, and violinist Konstanze Glander who wasn’t present for this final concert. Whatever the individual skills showed by these talented young performers, the experience that they have gained during their apprenticeship year will stand them in very good stead as their careers develop. All are to be congratulated, but perhaps Monika Grimm deserves a special mention for being the only player to perform in every piece.