United Kingdom Szymanowski, Mozart, Dvorak: Minetti Quartet, Till Fellner (piano). Wigmore Hall,London 14.11.2011 (RB)
Szymanowski: String Quartet No. 2 Op 56 (1927)
Mozart: Piano Concerto in A K414 (1782)
Dvořák: Piano Quintet in A Op 81 (1887)
The Minetti Quartet was coached by the Alban Berg quartet and its members are rising stars of the classical music world. They opened the concert with Karol Szymanowski’s second quartet, which was written in Paris when the composer was in his mid-forties. It is an intriguing mix of styles opening like the Ravel quartet but containing episodic passages which clearly owe a debt to Bartók.
The opening was atmospheric and moody with the inner parts accompanying a beautifully arched and framed melody on the violin and cello. In the middle of the first movement the quartet changes character and there is more stringent, dissonant material clearly inspired by Bartók. The Minettis did an excellent job of unravelling Szymanowski’s sometimes dense and elusive structures and they struck the right balance between the harsh and more finely grained material. Szymanowski again borrows from Bartók in the acerbic scherzo with its rough-and-tumble drive and energy. I thought the Minettis could have given a little more bite to some of this material although they made the most of the variety of textures and exercised excellent judgement in terms of the weight and balance given to the four players. The final movement is a curious lento which uses fugal material reminiscent of Bartók and late Beethoven. The voicing and phrasing of the material was very good with the Minettis creating some nicely layered textures.
The programme notes reminded us that Mozart published the first three of his Viennese piano concertos to be played either with a full orchestra or by piano quintet and the Minettis were joined by the superb Till Fellner for this quintet performance of the K. 414 concerto. The Minettis brought drive and energy to the opening allegro and demonstrated how the material could be wonderfully controlled and nuanced. Fellner coaxed a full, burnished tone from his Steinway, while at the same time showing a superlative understanding of Mozart’s classical idiom. His passage work was exceptionally even and precise and there was subtle and well judged rubato and elegant phrasing and articulation. There was excellent rapport between all five players in the development section where the quintet brought out the tonal variation and emotional depth of the work. Fellner elected to play a short, crisp cadenza which showed good judgement given that this was a quintet rather than a full concerto performance. Fellner’s ornaments and trills in the second movement andante were executed with cut glass precision and the whole movement was played with a classically restrained elegance. The final rondo was playful and inventive and was delivered in a fresh-minted and lively way with some engaging exchanges between all five players.
The final work in the programme was Dvořák’s A major Quintet which has a wonderfully melodious and lyrical character. The piano adopts a more subsidiary role than it does in the Brahms and Schumann Quintets and Fellner again showed an excellent rapport and shared understanding with the Minettis. The opening figurations on the piano had a luminous, radiant quality and the opening melody on the cello was pure song. The quintet worked organically to bring out the natural lyricism and sweetness to the unfolding thematic material in the opening ‘allegro ma non troppo’. The slow movement andante is a characteristic Dvořák dumka and the melancholy main theme was played in a soulful way. The tempo and textural changes were handled well and there was a particularly lovely duet between the viola and cello. The quintet brought a lightness and grace to the third movement scherzo while the transitions to the more reflective trio sections were well handled. Dvořák gives the pianist a more extrovert, virtuoso role in the finale but Fellner was careful not to overpower or shift the finely tuned balance between the five players. The kaleidoscopic shifts in texture and tone colour in the opening were brilliantly executed. There was a carefully calibrated build up of tension and tonal weight in the development section while the final expression of national pride was played with bitter sweet nostalgia. Absolutely gorgeous playing that was very warmly received by the Wigmore audience.