Souvenir de Florence, Op.70
Octet in E flat, Op.20
Daniel Hope, Benny Kim, Laura Samuel & David Adams (violins), Philip Dukes & Clara Maria Rodrigues (violas) andThomas Carroll & Josephine Knight (cellos)
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris
Reviewed: 28 September, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
This relatively brief concert was something of a reunion for Daniel Hope, bringing together select friends and colleague for a performance of two of the classics of the string repertoire. Despite this being an evening concert, the programme presented only a little more than a lunchtime’s worth of music, though the intensity of this performance of Souvenir de Florence welcomed the interval. Presenting this late sextet of Tchaikovsky, who struggled for some years to achieve his desired effect, alongside the earlier piece by Mendelssohn, the group shone; yet in the almost effortlessly composed Octet by the sixteen-year-old Mendelssohn, the musicians struggled to capture the work’s infectious joy.
Souvenir de Florence is sometimes criticised for its heavy textures, which make it hard to balance. Hope and his fellow musicians (minus Laura Samuel and David Adams) dismissed these concerns in presenting a performance of tremendous force and glittering colours. Hope’s relatively small sound blended well with the ensemble while remaining a distinct voice in his many exposed passages, though his approach to the furious first movement was occasionally a little overwrought. The ensemble missed a trick by pausing for so long between the first and second movements: what a glorious release their glowing chords at the second movement’s opening would have been had it followed more swiftly from the riveting runaway-train conclusion to the first. Each time that music returned it was remarkable for its purity and depth of feeling, though Hope and cellist Josephine Knight unfortunately valued robust projection over tenderness in their extended solos. The incremental build of the third movement featured the most exquisite playing of the evening, with the group completely attuned to each other’s intentions, coming to an end with the most perfectly placed of pizzicato chords.
Much was promised in Mendelssohn’s Octet, but it seemed supremely energetic without ever communicating the revitalising sense of joy imbued in this music. The reflective and profound elements of the slow movement did emerge convincingly, but throughout Hope sounded ill-at-ease with the demanding first-violin part. So disproportionately taxing and exposed is this principal part that the Octet often seems more like a violin concerto than a work for eight equals, yet Hope did not seem commanding enough to emerge as the leader. The scampering magic of the scherzo was lost through some uncharacteristic untidiness and it was a great shame that the first cello entry in the finale resorted to pitch-less grumble.