Keeping it Live
Schumann; Mendelssohn & Shostakovich
Haydn Piano Trio in F# minor HXV:26
Full houses are nowadays regular at Wigmore Hall, morning, lunchtime and evenings; it is surviving nicely without having to compromise with repertoire and genres as has South Bank had to.
This piano trio, which made its name with Schumann, retains its excellence and vitality, giving that indefinable thing which is a "performance". Although middling amateur string players used, in my time, to look down on the piano trio as a medium - portentously citing the limitation of the piano's fixed equal temperament, would you believe - the best groups, from Cortot/Thibaud/Casals through Beaux Arts to today's, have always relished the inherent contrast.
Our first experience of the Jean Pauls was in a different Haydn/Schumann programme and again the wondrous inexhaustability of Haydn's late trios stood out; there are too many of them to tire us with overfamiliarity. I found myself listening closely to the cellist, who doesn't just double automatically; perhaps the best moments were in the encore, which teasingly made you wish they were giving the complete work...
Atrium String Quartet
Mendelssohn Quartet Op. 80
Wigmore Hall 7 December 2008
The day before, it was again an encore, Shostakovich's richly romantic Elegie, which brought a lunchtime chamber group to life in a way which eluded them before.
Commanding in competition, the Atrium String Quartet's relentless virtuosity and complete unanimity left them somehow less winning in recital.
Without any programme notes, some listeners will have been puzzled by the driven torrent of sound which is Mendelssohn's last quartet, a cry of anguish at the loss of his sister Fanny, a work which has a special place in my string quartet recital memory, not least a performance by multiple quartets conducted by Lord Yehudi Menuhin to conclude the London String Quartet Competition 1994.*
But the Russian Atriums went for sheer well-drilled efficiency, no eye contact and no flexibility in the phrasing. A comparable coolness marred Shostakovich No 9, in which the lack of d notes must have left some listeners unaware that the six movements were played -attaca without breaks. The audience was enthusiastic; my own response eccentric...
Peter Grahame Woolf
No, not 'less strenuous' at all, but - responding maybe to my wish - introducing Mendelssohn. Here at his most uncomfortable, searing response to the death of his beloved Fanny, and not long before his own. This is one of the most draining memorials in instrumental music, an angry response to the deity, q.v. London International String Quartet Competition, 1994):
*- - This Op 80 of 1847 famously won the Vellinger Quartet their victory in the London String Quartet Competition 1994, after which they led a performance of it in the Barbican Centre by all the participating quartets conducted by Sir Yehudi Menuhin; unforgettable!