Schubert, Mulsant, Dvořák: Armida Quartet [Martin Funda and Johanna Staemmler (violins), Teresea Schwamm (viola), Peter-Philipp Staemmler (cello)], Lise Berthaud (viola), Cheltenham Music Festival, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 8.7.2014.(RJ)
Schubert: String Quartet in G major, D889
Florentine Mulsant: Vocalise for solo viola, Op 53
Dvořák: String Quintet No 3 in E flat, Op 97
United Kingdom Dove, Gibbs, Ireland, Vaughan Williams, Quilter, Fauré, Schumann: Kitty Whately, Simon Lepper, Pavel Kolesnikov (piano), Ben Griffiths (double bass), Armida Quartet, Cheltenham Music Festival, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 9.7.2015
Jonathan Dove: Nights Not Spent Alone (premiere)
Armstrong Gibbs: The Cherry Tree
John Ireland: Her Song
Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Sky above the Roof
Roger Quilter: Love’s Philosophy
Fauré: La bonne chanson
Schumann: Lied ohne Ende; Arabeske
Piano Quintet in E flat
BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists scheme has been running a good many years now and it is always a delight to get to know the latest crop of young musicians, many of whom are likely to becomes tomorrow’s musical stars.. This time in Cheltenham the Armida Quartet from Germany had the lion’s share of the music making, especially in the first concert in which they were joined by French violist Lise Berthaud.
Schubert’s final string quartet made up the first half of the programme – which was a surprising, since it is a substantial work and generally placed at the end of a recital. The first movement was played with great intensity and precision; a friend compared them with the Artemis Quartet who had once mentored them. They repaid their debt by dedicating this recital to the memory of the Artemis’ violist Friedemann Weigle who died very recently.
The wistfulness of the Andante interrupted by an explosion of energy was more to my taste, and though the scherzo was light-hearted enough, its ländler trio lacked any Austrian lilt to it. There was a robust account of the 4th movement tarantella, but I would have liked to see the players taking themselves less seriously. This is Schubert, after all!
A newish work for solo viola by Florentine Mulsant, a former professor of composition at the Sorbonne, brought Lise Berthaud on to the platform to display her musicianship – which she did. Mulsant’s work is no pushover with a strong opening, an exclamatory passage punctuated by pizzicato effects and a more melodic line which ascends into the higher registers.
She then joined the Armida Quartet for am energetic account of Dvořák’s Third String Quartet of which the first movement seemed particularly driven. The scherzo with its persistent drum rhythms worked particularly well, and there were good contrasts in the theme and variations of the slow movement. The five captured the jolly dance-like atmosphere of the finale excellently and ended with a rip roaring climax.
The Quartet returned the following morning to accompany Kitty Whately in La Bonne Chanson, the song cycle by Fauré. I adore this setting for string quintet – but apparently the composer loathed it and banned it from being performed. (There’s no accounting for taste!) I feel sure he would have changed his mind on hearing this radiant performance by Miss Whately with the Armida (plus double bass Ben Griffiths showing such empathy with the music.
The other major work of the first half was the premiere of Jonathan Dove’s settings of three poems by American poet Edna St Vincent Millay. Thomas Hardy is reported to have said that America had two great attractions: the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Nowadays she is not at all well known on this side of the Atlantic, so one hopes Jonathan Dove’s engaging composition will stimulate greater interest in her work. These are poems of love, the night, relationships and regret, and their essence is captured with great sincerity by the composer. Kitty Whately poured her soul into these songs making tem her own, partnered by the incomparable Simon Lepper.
Yet another New Generation Artist appeared after the interval in the shape of pianist Pavel Kolesnikov from Siberia. His delicacy of touch was evident in Schumann’s dreamy Lied oder Ende and his elegant playing of Arabeske was pure poetry. Alas, his solo contribution was far too short, leaving the audience longing to hear more from him.
In a sense they did – when he teamed up with the Armida Quartet in Schumann’s Piano Quintet. After the energetic start Kalesnikov seemed to calm the waters, as it were, though there were many occasions when his playing was as robust as that of the string players; he proved to be the ideal match for them. While I may have had reservations about the Armida’s interpretation of Schubert the previous morning, here they showed that they not only understand Schumann’s music but, as Germans, care about it deeply. As a result their committed performance, with Mr Kalesnikov’s help, revealed the Quintet as the masterpiece it truly is.