United Kingdom Mozart, Schumann, Britten, Brahms: Dante Quartet – Krysia Osostowicz & Giles Francis (violins), Rachel Roberts (viola) & Richard Jenkinson (cello), Stephen Stirling (horn) & Michael Dussek (piano), Church of St Mary, Callington. UK 11.7.2012 (PRB)
Mozart: Horn Quintet in E flat, K 407
Schumann: Piano Quintet in E flat, Op 44
Britten: Elegy for Solo Viola (1930)
Brahms: Horn Trio in E flat, Op 40
The second concert in this year’s Dante Summer Festival, held in the Tamar Valley, nestling at the border between the UK’s most south-westerly counties, Devon and Cornwall, moved across the River Tamar to the small ancient market town of Callington in south east Cornwall, internationally famous for its Honey Fair and Mural trail. Here was literally a veritable cornucopia of music, given in front of a packed audience, in the town’s parish church.
For not only was the Dante Quartet joined by pianist, Michael Dussek, the concert also featured top UK horn-player, Stephen Stirling, in a programme entitled ‘Sound the Horn’.
Mozart’s charming Horn Quintet in E flat provided an ideal opener, where the playing was of the highest order throughout, but especially set apart by the sheer ease with which Stirling negotiated all the tricky moments with consummate agility, while effortlessly controlling a wide dynamic range throughout and maintaining a delightfully well-rounded tone at all times.
Until he was thirty, Schumann wrote almost exclusively for the piano, but come 1840, he began to branch out into other forms, with a ‘chamber music’ year following on in 1842. This was the time of his great Piano Quartet in E flat, and its so-called ‘creative double’, the Piano Quintet, also in the same key. Here, as an avowed innovator, he was the first significant composer to attempt to write for piano and string quartet where the piano’s role was equal to that of the strings combined.
One of the obvious disadvantages of bringing this kind of chamber music to relatively small local churches is that the majority will lack the provision of even a half-decent piano. Dussek proved simply outstanding in the glorious Piano Quintet, even if the specially-brought-in instrument wasn’t really man enough to compete on an equal playing-field, and called for perhaps a slightly larger model, but certainly one of European origin.
In the event though, Dussek played both with immense fire and passion, but also exhibited the most delicate of touches where the music demanded, and all finely matched by the quartet’s equally telling contribution. Despite the piano’s slight inadequacy, Dussek nevertheless skilfully ensured that he and the Dantes, who never once felt the need to hold back in this generous outpouring of pure Romantic expression, were all but equal protagonists, culminating in what was a quite sensational performance.
Benjamin Britten’s Elegy for Solo Viola is a comparatively recent discovery. Not performed until the 1984 Aldeburgh (Sussex) Festival (by Nobuko Imai), it was written the day after the composer left Gresham’s School at the age of sixteen. He had only been there for two years and had disliked the experience. However, once he had actually taken leave of his friends and masters, he said ‘I didn’t think I should be sorry to leave’, but found that he missed them all the same. This Elegy, which he probably wrote to play himself, expresses his feelings at that time.
There was, therefore, a somewhat tenuous link between Britten’s piece and the closing item, Brahms’ Horn Trio, written in memory of his mother, who had died earlier in the year of its composition. However, despite a superb and moving performance by Rachel Roberts, the Elegy came over more as a kind of ‘programme-filler’, though if it did succeed in highlighting the true greatness of the work to follow, even acknowledging that the latter was written by a composer at the height of his creative power, rather than the outset.
Stirling gave a most compelling mini-lecture on the work, where he elaborated on his own interpretation of various key points during its four movements, and any perceived biographical links they might have to the composer’s life, during one of Brahms’ most anguished periods. The performance itself must surely rank as one of the best instances of chamber-music playing heard for a very long time, distinguished by the correspondingly first-rate piano-playing of Dussek, and Osostowicz’s highly-sympathetic and suitably impassioned contribution
Philip R Buttall