United Kingdom Schumann, Anthony Payne, Brahms. Primrose Piano Quartet [Susanne Stanzeleit (violin), Dorothea Vogel (viola), Andrew Fuller (cello), John Thwaites (piano)] Hall One, Kings Place, London. 15.2.2015. (LB)
Schumann– Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 47
Payne – Piano Quartet (World Première)
Brahms – Piano Quartet No.2 in A, Op. 26
Ensembles dedicated to mastering the repertoire for piano quartet are rare nowadays, but the wealth of excellent works by many of the major composers, not least Schumann and Brahms, is testament to the piano quartet’s historic popularity.
The Primrose Piano Quartet enjoys an enviable reputation, not just as a standard bearer for the mainstream repertoire for piano quartet, but also for a string of recordings of lesser-known works, and a vigorous commitment to commissioning new music. Their performance at Kings Place this evening was a glowing testimony to this well-deserved reputation, in an exhibition of mature artistry and sophisticated music making.
The Primrose Quartet’s joyous performance of Schumann’s popular Piano Quartet Op.47 was characterised by an unerring unanimity of musical purpose, and the impeccable balance between the instruments allowed the music to express itself freely. The andante cantabile third movement, the emotional heart of the piece, and also one of the most profound and affectionate melodies in all chamber music, was particularly beautifully performed. Andrew Fuller’s richly expressive and idiomatic cello solo elicited playing of extraordinary tenderness from the rest of the ensemble, with Susanne Stanzeleit’s delicate phrasing particularly enchanting.
Anthony Payne (b. 1936) has achieved worldwide recognition for his completion of Elgar’s Third Symphony, and this evening his own Piano Quartet received its world première performance.
Payne describes his music as ‘post-tonal’ but it never loses touch with the essence of music, as the expression of human life in sound.
His piano quartet, which is in one continuous and constantly metamorphosing movement, was composed with the Primrose Piano Quartet’s unique qualities in mind. It is neither programmatic, nor does it benefit from any literary or other inspirations, but is, in his own words, “music, pure and simple.” The goal he set for his composition, was that “by the time we get to the final pages, I like to think that we’ve made it to another world, which is perhaps way in the future, or even in the past.”
His composition benefitted from a committed performance, with each instrument enjoying the opportunity to contribute something personal to the proceedings, before combining with the rest of the ensemble, as their collective journey gained momentum.
John Thwaites is a powerful and poetic pianist, and it was especially in the Brahms where he deployed his resources to such devastating effect. The Primrose Piano Quartet’s performance of Brahms’ colossal Second Piano Quartet was fantastic in every respect: they captured the spirit of each movement, but with due consideration for the overall architecture; tempo relationships were perfectly judged; their concept of sound was convincingly Brahmsian – and so I could go on.
This was, in short, music making at its most engaging, and the enthusiastic and protracted applause created the distinct impression that the audience was, like me, somewhat reluctant to leave the auditorium.