Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Schubert Ensemble at Wigmore Hall, 7 Feb 2011

This, the second of three concerts given by the Schubert Ensemble at Wigmore Hall featuring works by Enescu and Dvořák, gave pride of place to the second piano quartets of both composers.   
Schubert’s brief piano trio Notturno, c. 1827, acted as a not inconsequential concert opener. The performance married steadiness of tempo with a brightness of tone and ebullience of feeling for the music’s surging lines, held together by tight ensemble coordination.  By turns, tender delicacy mixed with suitably dominant crescendi that always maintained a sense of relative scale.

Over the past few years the Schubert Ensemble have devoted a considerable amount of effort to understanding and performing some of Enescu’s major chamber compositions. The obvious enthusiasm they have for the second piano quartet was reflected in the cogent remarks on Enescu’s compositional approach that violinist Simon Blendis offered from the platform before the performance.  A defining characteristic of Enescu’s later works is his ability to fuse concentration of musical ideas with individuality of expression; indeed, the musical seed is sown by the piano in the opening movement’s first bars, and through gradual development and transformation it flowers across much of the entire work. The Schubert Ensemble brought a distinct intensity to the opening movement, flavouring the instrumental lines with a pungency of timbre that played slight of hand with the music’s key signature whilst unobtrusively registering the folk-originated underpinning layer within Enescu’s writing.  As elsewhere, careful observation was made of Enescu’s precise markings, resulting at times in a near improvisatory feel, so often the intention elsewhere in Enescu’s compositional approach. The playing of the middle movement explored the delicacy of Enescu’s writing to great effect, here a limpidity of phrasing in Jane Salmon’s cello and William Howard’s piano playing brought intended association with Gabriel Fauré to mind. The closing movement proved suitably driven, possessed of its own emotional dynamism and creative energy: the players’ advocacy of the coda’s gradual evolution proved the necessity of thinking in terms of musical paragraphs rather that than on a phrase-by-phrase basis.

Based on this experience, their forthcoming CD of both Enescu piano quartets for Chandos, to be released later this year, should be well worth hearing. Perhaps in due course the Schubert Ensemble might be persuaded to add the virtually unknown A minor piano trio dating from 1916 to their repertoire, thus extending their journey into Enescu still further.
After the involved nature of Enescu’s writing, Dvořák’s piano quartet poured fourth effusively with self-confident, full-blooded lyricism. Across the four movements a range of moods were conveyed. Ever one to exploit the potential of a good theme with taste, refinement of statement, best explored in the slow second movement, found its counter-weight in the scherzo third movement’s staccato remarks, which gradually attained warmth of expression as the music progressed. Douglas Paterson’s viola frequently added a nutty ripeness to the overall palette. The closing movement was completely assured, peppery and vigorous.  

Another jointly written review also published at:

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