Puccini is so little associated with chamber music that his Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) was an unexpected highlight of the Apollon Musagète Quartet’s recital at Wigmore Hall; an elegy but not a melodramatic one, more of a lugubrious and tentative exploration or recollection, with melodies he would later use in Manon Lescaut.
More overtly impressive, though, was the large-scale Grieg. Running somewhat counter to the composer’s sunny, folksy image, this is an unusual and never really restful tussle between serenity and urgency, heard to fine effect in the first movement, bursting with energy, the occasional more debonair passages not lasting long before tension emerges again, and leading to a potent pianissimo; similar contrasts in the second movement – a relaxed, civilised opening but soon a return of greater passion. Throughout all four movements, the musicians made the most of the composer’s expressive variety and his imaginative approach to their instruments.
Earlier we heard Sibelius’s Andante festivo in its original version, short and straightforwardly melodic, helped on its way by some brilliant glossy tone. For an encore the players delivered Osvaldo Fresedo’s ‘Vida Mia’, as beguiling as tango-based music so often is, and a nice departure from the aesthetic of the preceding works.
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