United Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2014 (4) – Brahms, Shostakovich: Nicola Benedetti and Friends, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 11.8.2014 (SRT)
Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1
Shostakovich: Piano Quintet
Nicola Benedetti (violin)
Susie Chen (violin)
Benjamin Gilmore (viola)
Leonard Elschenbroich (cello)
Alexei Grynyuk (piano)
Chamber music is often described as being like a conversation, but when the participants are well known to one another that conversation can become something extra special. Such was the case this morning. They’re not a “named” quintet, but these players know each other well (Benedetti and Elschenbroich are life-partners off the concert platform, for example) and that lends their music-making a special quality of intimacy for an occasional gathering. It also intensifies the level of interplay – you could tell that Elschenbroich, in particular, was focusing hard on what his fellow musicians were doing – and it makes the conversation even more fulfilling.
In the opening movement of Brahms’ first piano quartet, for example, the architectural scale of the piece was even more apparent, and the wistfulness of the Intermezzo second movement was beautiful. The sparks flew in the gypsy finale, of course, but the highlight was the long, seamless flow of melody that opened the Andante; the strings, playing in unison against the undulating line of the piano, sounding like melted chocolate in their velvety richness.
Shostakovich’s Quintet took us on even more of a journey. This composer is famously able to encompass the most schizophrenic swings of mood in the same work, and so it proved here. The finale was able to turn itself to a sly wink in the final bars (accompanied by mutual grins from the players), but before that the slow fugue of the opening movement seemed to plumb a well of infinite sadness, each instrument conversing as absolute equals, something unusual in a work that can sound like a string quartet with piano accompaniment. Even more affecting was the lament of the slow movement, Benedetti’s solo line singing out in desperation isolation, encompassing what felt like a world of loneliness. You can hear it for yourself, as the concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and is available to listen here.
The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 31st August in venues across the city. For full details click here.