The Piatti string quartet comes to Leighton Buzzard

Here’s the review of the last concert before Christmas 2011. Don’t forget, you can match this up with LBMC’s website here: http://www.lbmusic.co.uk/

On Saturday the 3rd of December Leighton Buzzard Music Club hosted an evening with the Piatti string quartet. As those who’ve read these reports before will know, LBMC gets very good artistes; but the Piatti were exceptional. Charlotte Scott (1st violin), Michael Trainor (2nd violin), David Wigram (viola) and Jessie Ann Richardson (‘cello) have appeared on Radio 3 and at major London venues picking up, on the way, many of the glittering music prizes available to classical music scholars.
Unusually for these concerts, the repertoire consisted of three longer pieces. The evening began with a famous Mozart quartet; “The Dissonance”, K465, in C major. In the eighteenth century, when it was new, people were shocked by the discords in the opening bars. Those who bought the sheet music brought it back asking for a copy with the right notes, please! We are used to more varied harmony today and the piece has largely lost the power to shock, although not to charm. The dissonance slowly resolves through the full and languourous opening ‘Adagio’, lingering and leaning on those bizarre notes. As soon as resolution is achieved the piece leaps into an ‘allegro’, full of archetypal Mozartian trills and runs. I consider Mozart frothy. But there is no doubt that, the music he writes for strings – and quartets in particular – plays perfectly to their strengths. The ‘Adagio – Allegro’ was followed by the ‘Andante Cantabile’ which was a gorgeous series of melting moments. The ‘Menuetto and Trio’ quickly became extravagant, dramatic – the centre of it tending towards “Death and the Maiden” territory. The final ‘Allegra molto’ began as quickly and lightly as a bird’s song. Still tearing along it became increasingly robust. The quartet’s technical mastery enabled us to listen, spellbound, to the skilful blend of four instruments conjuring music as one.
The second piece on the programme was Debussy’s only string quartet, written in 1893. This, too, was unsuccessful at first. It anticipates the interwar music of people like Vaughn Williams and has, indeed, a more English ambience than one might expect. The variety within the piece was a delight.The opening ‘Animé’ was both dramatic and lyrical with great light and shade. The ‘Assez vif’ which followed had a quite different flavour – of Spain and flamenco. The third movement ‘Andantino, doucement expressif’ was, indeed, both – a gentle song without words of love now lost, the ‘cello enacting the pulse of an aching heart beneath overlying, intertwining melodies. The final movement – ‘Très Modèrè’ – brought us back to full consciousness with a jazziness which looked forward to Gershwin. Finally the music chased through the four instruments to end with a vibrant, high climax. Bravissimo!

The second half was given over to Smetana. Coincidentally Smetana was Radio 3’s ‘Composer of the Week’ that week, so it was particularly pleasurable to have this opportunity of listening, live, to the ‘Quartet No 1 in E minor (“From My Life”)’. It was written after Smetana suddenly went deaf at the height of his fame and thought his life as a composer was over. But he found he still heard music in his head and from that he distilled this encapsulation of his life. The first movement, ‘Allegro vivo appassionato’, features the call of fate in a repeated viola solo. The viola’s serious artistic yearnings are continually interrupted by the other instruments. The second movement, ‘alla polka’, depicts the happy drunken days of Smetana’s youth, the third, ‘largo sostenuto’, weeps for the loss of his first wife. The final ‘vivace’ is a celebration of his success as a composer and a harbinger of his deafness, which first manifested as a single high note, which now appears in the music. The Quartet captured the joys and terrors of Smetana’s life. To have it played, in Leighton Buzzard, by four such talented musicians was a joy indeed.

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