United Kingdom Bach, Mozart, Brahms: Daniel Phillips (violin), Lesley Hatfield (violin), Alice Neary (cello), Louise Williams (viola), David Adams (viola), Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, 25.03.2015 (LJ)
J.S. Bach: Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: String Quintet No. 4 in G minor, K. 516
Johannes Brahms: String Quintet No. 2 in G, Op. 111
Stepping out onto an empty stage in a lilac floral shirt, violinist Daniel Phillips joked, “My friends will be along in a few moments” before he began Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 in D minor, BVW 1004, the best known of Bach’s violin works (composed during his time spent in Cöthen, 1917-23). With its thirty variations of an eight-bar theme in sarabande rhythm, the Chaconne is a piece which requires concentrated intensity and brave conviction to be carried out from beginning to end. Whilst Phillips performed the quieter moments with tender fragility, his fast tempo made the more intensely angst-ridden passages somewhat of a struggle.
With Lesley Hatfield (second violin), Alice Neary (cello), Louise Williams (viola), and David Adams (second viola), Phillips formed his Welsh Quintet. Performing Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor, K. 516 and Brahms’ String Quintet No. 2 in G, Op. 111, the five musicians came into their own.
Sharing its key with the early ‘Sturm und Drang’ symphony K. 183, the Piano Quartet K. 478, the Symphony No. 40 and the aria ‘Ach ich fuhl’s, es ist verschwunden’ from The Magic Flute, Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor was famously described by Hans Keller as being composed in his ‘most personal key’ as it is both dark and anguished. The weighty solemnity in the piece gives rise to the conjecture that the quintet’s character is associated with the imminent death of Mozart’s father, Leopold (who died only ten days after the work was finished). Regarded as Mozart’s finest chamber work, its ominous, mysterious and unsettling character is a challenge for any chamber group. However, these five musicians met this challenge with courage and intelligence. In particular, cellist Alice Neary – the consummate chamber instrumentalist – was a sturdy bedrock offering insightful exchanges with Phillips. The high emotional tension and quiet restless agitation was held throughout. Accordingly, Phillips played the second movement’s fragmenting chords excellently. The yearning beauty of the third movement stretches into the final movement which beginning with a sombre adagio morphs into a joyous dance-like allegro before resting in the crystalline light of G major. Conveying the labyrinthine twists and turns in this demanding piece was a task that the five musicians met with honesty and integrity. The overall result was both convincing and at times stunning.
After the interval, the quintet returned to perform Brahms’ String Quintet No. 2 in G. Following Mozart with the use of two violas (rather than Schubert who used two cellos), Brahms’ quintet has a distinctly Alpine feel (it was composed high up in the Austrian Alps during the summer of 1890). With a full, warm sound that moves into introspective quietude before finishing with vigour and bursting melody (derived from Hungarian gypsy that influenced Brahms greatly), this quintet forms the story of a journey, equally perilous and magical. Of particular note was Louise Williams’ daringly expansive performance in the final movement (marked Vivace ma non troppo presto) and her exactitude in finishing Neary’s runs in the third movement (Un poco Allegretto). It became immediately evident that the five musicians were most comfortable performing this Romantic repertoire as they managed to balance the tenderness and sentimentality with the intimacy and veracity this piece requires. Finishing with considerable aplomb, all the musicians deserve to be accredited. It leaves me to add that Lesley Hatfield’s invigorated movements and exacting precision, and David Adams’ grace and consistency marked this quintet out as top-class.