ASMF Chamber Ensemble review – Perahia makes welcome return to celebrate Marriner’s centenary

<span>Murray Perahia at the piano with the ASMF Chamber Ensemble at Wigmore Hall.</span><span>Photograph: Wigmore Hall</span>
Murray Perahia at the piano with the ASMF Chamber Ensemble at Wigmore Hall.Photograph: Wigmore Hall

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields is currently marking the centenary of the birth of its founder and conductor, Neville Marriner. But those queueing for returns at Wigmore Hall for the concert by the Academy’s Chamber Ensemble were hoping not just to join in the anniversary celebrations, but also to welcome Murray Perahia back to the concert platform after a six-year absence. For 30 years now Perahia’s career has been blighted by a hand injury, which has forced long periods away from the concert hall, and many of his admirers must have feared that his most recent absence could well become a permanent one.

But Perahia’s long history with the ASMF – he made many recordings with Marriner and the group, and he has been its principal guest conductor since 2005 – evidently persuaded him to make at least a brief return as part of this month’s celebration, taking the stage in a performance of Schumann’s Piano Quintet, the centrepiece of the ensemble’s concert. It’s not a work with a particularly prominent piano part – the pianist is very much one of a team – but there were enough moments in the performance – the warm pearly piano sound and textural clarity, the perfect weight of the tiniest detail – to provide reminders of why Perahia is regarded as one of the finest players of his generation, and to encourage the hope that he might soon be back playing more regularly.

The ASMF’s current director Joshua Bell took over as first violin for the performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet that followed the Schumann, encouraging a more flamboyant approach than before. His dynamism certainly launched the performance with great verve, but sometimes – in the light-as-air scherzo and the whirlwind finale especially – a slightly more measured approach and greater care over articulation might have made it feel less cluttered. Another string octet had opened the concert – the Partita by Sally Beamish (who had once been a viola player in the ASMF and was its first composer-in-residence); a taut, effective piece which takes ideas from Mendelssohn’s work as the starting points for each of its three movements.