A Concert in Memory of Joseph Horovitz (1926-2022) at a capacity-filled Leighton House on 18 October 2022 inaugurated the Kensington and Chelsea Music Society’s 2022-3 season, the first KCMS event in the elegant museum gallery since its recent refurbishment. The programme featured two of Horovitz’s finest chamber works, performed by the London Chamber Ensemble and guest soloists, and with the composer’s wife Anna and family members in the audience, formed a memorable tribute to the much-admired composer, conductor, pianist and teacher who sadly passed away last February. 

KCMS Chairman William Vann introducing, highlighted how Joseph Horovitz, a KCMS Vice-President, was active at its inception and had maintained interest in the Society over the years. Madeleine Mitchell, also a KCMS Vice-President, spoke about Joseph Horovitz’s life and career, including his many awards, including honours from the Royal College of Music where he was Professor for over 60 years, and from Austria, City of Vienna, where he was born in 1926. Horovitz, eldest son of the publisher Béla Horovitz, founder of the Phaidon Press, found safe haven with his family in Britain shortly after the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. After graduating from New College Oxford, and the RCM, he began a period of study with Nadia Boulanger, so it was salutary to open the programme with two works reflecting on the ‘Paris period’. In the dreamy ‘Nocturne’ by Lili Boulanger, winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome, Madeleine Mitchell, who also shared personal reminiscences of Horovitz, produced a wistful silvery tone, phrasing shapely melodic lines over the piano’s ostinato patterns projected resonantly by William Vann. Vann also partnered Joseph Spooner in Nadia Boulanger’s Three Pieces for Cello (1914). Spooner’s rich and varied colours meshed evocatively with the piano’s delicate ostinatos in the first piece, engaging in close canons with piano in the extravagantly harmonized second piece, brightly contrasted in the burlesque-style finale full of dynamic contrasts and sparkling syncopation.

The clarinettist James Gilbert, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, and fellow RAM student Julian Chan, gave an impressively characterful rendition of the appealing Clarinet Sonatina (1981), a work which displays Horovitz’s distinctive classical-jazz synthesis, developed earlier in popular compositions such as the Music Hall Suite (1964), one of his numerous works for brass, the Jazz Concerto and the cantata Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo (1970). The Clarinet Sonatina, which has a multitude of recordings in in the discography, and is one of a string of works composed for clarinettist Gervase de Peyer, with whom Horovitz enjoyed a lifelong friendship. Gilbert and Chan produced an especially flowing and fluent first movement, rich harmonies and came across with subtle expression. The heartfelt reflective mood of the slow movement was entrancing, Gilbert’s mellow timbre breathily vocal over the calm richness of Chan’s chordal background. Their jocular projection of the witty syncopated finale was brilliantly effective, the unexpected rhythmic hiccups adding to the zestful jazziness of what was a most inspirited performance adorned with energy and virtuosity.  

The London Chamber Ensemble followed with a compelling account of one of Horovitz’s finest works, his String Quartet no. 5. It was premiered in 1969 by the Amadeus Quartet on the occasion of the sixtieth birthday of the fellow émigré Viennese art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich, and is an autobiographical reflection on the composer’s Viennese refugee experience, with allusions to a Viennese popular song and a Nazi march woven into the fabric of a richly textured single movement. With fine coordination the quartet, Madeleine Mitchell and Gordon MacKay, violins, Bridget Carey, viola and Joseph Spooner, cello, coloured the narrative with distinctive expression, projecting the opening theme based on the initials E-G (Ernst Gombrich) with a beautiful tone, then produced driving rhythmic energy in the contrasting second theme. The quotation of a Viennese popular waltz tune later in the work was especially effective, leading to the troubling quote from the Nazi ‘Horst Wessel’ song before returning to calm tenderness at the end of the quartet, a powerfully eloquent vision of survival.   

The concert concluded with the autumnal beauty of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet Op.115, evocatively projected by the LCE joined by clarinettist James Gilbert. By turns poetic, lyrical and dramatically incisive, the four movements traversed the broad emotional soundworld with enthralling richness and variety. The ensemble intensified in power throughout the work, with the final variations crowning an evening of superb, high quality chamber music-making of which Horovitz would certainly have approved. 

Review by Malcolm Miller

A fuller review appears in the January 2023 issue of Musical Opinion.
Pictured above: Joseph Horovitz and Madeleine Mitchell after a KCMS concert at Leighton House 2017 – photo by Nigel Clayton