A Slimmed-Down Mozart Piano Concerto is a Delight.

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Suk, Shostakovich, Schubert, Mozart.  Fitzwilliam Quartet [Lucy Russell (violin), Marcus Barcham-Stevens (violin), Alan George (viola), Heather Tuach (cello)] Anna Tilbrook (piano) Hall One, Kings Place, London. 25.1.2015 (LB)

Suk – Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale St Wenceslas, Op.35a
Shostakovich –String Quartet No.3 in F, Op.73
Schubert – Impromptu in G flat, D.899 No.3
Mozart – Piano Concerto No.12 in A, K414 (Chamber Version)

The art of programming is a highly developed skill, which requires depth of understanding as well as imagination; qualities which Peter Fribbins, artistic director of the London Chamber Music Series evidently enjoys in abundance. His programmes, a characteristic hallmark of these concerts, always demonstrate great ingenuity in the choice of repertoire, but above all the matching of artists to that repertoire.

This evening’s concert at KIngs Place, given by the Fitzwilliam Quartet and the pianist Anna Tilbrook, of music by Suk, Shostakovich, Schubert and Mozart, proved to be another thought provoking and satisfying musical event.

The Fitzwilliam Quartet, founded in 1968, is one of the world’s longest established string quartets, and its musical mission has continued to find meaningful expression through the successful integration of three new members, who represent an entirely new generation, with a completely different musical education and outlook.

Violist, Alan George, is the only remaining member of the original Fitzwilliam Quartet that enjoyed such an outstanding relationship with Dmitri Shostakovich, who entrusted them with the European premieres of his last three quartets. They were also the first string quartet to perform and record all fifteen string quartets, and it is hardly surprising therefore that their concert this evening should include one of his quartets, No.3, which Shostakovich himself deemed to be one of his finest works.

They began their performance with a somewhat hasty account of Suk’s Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale, St Wenceslas however, before launching into the Shostakovich.

Shostakovich’s fifteen string quartets will arguably prove to have been one of the most significant contributions to the genre during the 20th Century, and the third quartet, with its five movements, makes a decisive break with the more traditional four-movement structure.

The allegretto first movement theme, although seemingly innocent and child-like, encapsulates the essence of Shostakovich’s musical language, and the quartet’s choice of tempo was probably too brisk, to give effective expression to the emotional complexity underlying this apparent simplicity. The second movement would have benefitted at the outset from a little more edge to the sound, and the quieter dynamics really required greater intensity truly to bring the music to life.

The quartet’s performance finally took off in the Allegro non troppo third movement, however, where the struggle to achieve a coherent balance in the fiery writing ignited some powerful and decidedly confident playing. Alan George’s sumptuous and complex viola tone in the fourth movement adagio provided a wonderful insight into the ravishing qualities that Dmitri Shostakovich treasured in the Fitzwilliam Quartet of old, and it inspired a much more integrated and perceptible sense of musical purpose, which extended into the final moderato movement. A passionate and moving conclusion to this monumental string quartet of over half an hour’s duration sent the audience into the interval with much to contemplate.

After the interval, Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat introduced the audience to the sound of the Kings Place concert grand piano and also Anna Tilbrook, who would later be the soloist in Mozart’s piano concerto K 414 in the arrangement with string quartet. She gave an evocative, if measured, performance of the Schubert, which was contemplative rather than turbulent in outlook, and with the suspicion of reticence in the exploitation of climaxes.

Chamber music arrangements of works originally conceived for larger forces were popular in the past and are finding favour once more, in these straightened economic times. It was satisfying to hear such an idiomatic and engaging performance of Mozart’s Twelfth Piano Concerto in this performance by five players..

The ensemble’s performance emphasised the collaborative approach to the classical concerto, rather than the traditionally more gladiatorial view, with the ensemble seated at the front of the platform and the piano in its traditional chamber music position.

The spirited first movement allegro was resolutely dispensed, and with a keen sense of interaction between the soloist and ensemble. Mozart’s emotional slow movement tribute to his teacher, J.C. Bach, benefitted from loving attention to detail, and the Rondeau finale danced its way effervescently to a spirited conclusion.

Their performance made a persuasive case for such skillful chamber arrangements that enable a much more intimate and delightful musical experience.

Leon Bosch

1 thought on “A Slimmed-Down Mozart Piano Concerto is a Delight.”

  1. Dear Leon,
    Anna directed me to your review above, which I found interesting, thought provoking, and maybe a little provocative….! Of course, it is incumbent upon musicians to expect to be criticised; but one hopes that there will always be something to learn from what critics have to say – especially since, in this instance, you are an eminent performer yourself.
    By way of response, all I would say here is that the “choice of tempo” you referred to in the first movement of the Shostakovich was not really a “choice” at all, since it was what the man himself indicated! Maybe it didn’t work in that space – although during the afternoon we spent a lot of time trying to make sure that everything sounded well in what is not actually an easy acoustic. Since you also found the Suk “hasty” it would appear that our efforts weren’t too successful! And I did wonder how you would have had me play the opening of the second movement: by “more edge to the sound”, would you have preferred the notes to be shorter, more detached? (as some other renditions have done – except there are no markings to suggest they should be other than legato, albeit with a degree of articulation – edge….?).
    Needless to say, all artists must be prepared to be criticised – it is part of the job, and if we don’t like it we shouldn’t be doing what we do! On the other hand, I do think there is a certain inherent danger when performers choose to criticise each other in a public domain. Maybe you have a different take on that? So I would be very interested to meet you for a drink sometime, and to hear what you have to say on this issue – and maybe to share with me any more of your thoughts on what you heard in Kings Place that evening. Just suggest a place – and a few alternative times. In the meantime, simply to tell you that when we played No.3 in Israel last week, we did examine the tempo of the first movement very carefully……
    Yours, Alan George


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