As at Wigmore Hall the evening before, Christian Blackshaw and members of the Berliner Philharmoniker began with Mozart’s two Piano Quartets, the first significant forays into the medium. He revels in this sonorous combination of instruments and although he lost the publisher’s contract after completing only the first of three proposed such works, his enthusiasm propelled the scoring of a second piece.
Enthusiasm was not in short supply from these musicians who made a good, if not always convincing, case for these compositions. Given the minor-key for K478, it was interesting to hear an account that drew out its scintillating character rather than agitated drama; such was the charm and polish that only in the development did hints of darker emotions emerge. The string-playing was technically beyond reproach (if somewhat unvarying in colour and dynamics), and Blackshaw executed the brilliant piano-writing with tremendous verve. There were fewer shared intimacies than ideal in the Andante, which emphasised poise rather than expression, more an eloquent conversation between sophisticated gentlemen rather than any soul-searching. However, their sparkling rendition of the Finale swept aside any reservations.
The E-flat Quartet brought some memorable interactions between Noah Bendix-Balgley and Bruno Delepelaire. Where the central Larghetto sounded somewhat stiff, its well-timed pauses hollow, the outer movements brought playing of energy and delicacy and, notwithstanding a few slips in intonation from Bendix-Balgley, the Finale created a distinctly favourable impression – bubbling humour uppermost. There was much to admire too in the companionable first movement, its main themes clearly outlined. Blackshaw is a natural in this repertoire – a consummate Classicist born to play Mozart and Schubert.
When a programme concludes with Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet, the preceding music is somehow overshadowed. If that’s unfair to Mozart, there was no doubt of the ensemble’s newly-acquired spring-in-the-step manner – as if shaking hands with a much-loved friend. Perhaps it’s Schubert’s choice of a bright A-major, his relaxed manner and so many gratifying moments. Joined by Matthew McDonald the performance was infectious and vividly expressed through incisive rhythms and nuanced phrasing. Notwithstanding some harsh violin tone, the Scherzo was more feverish than playful, but there was plenty of rustic dynamism. The fourth-movement ‘Die Forelle’ variations were finely honed, embracing tenderness to exhilaration, and further evidence of perceptive musicianship glistened through the Finale.