Fauré Quartet at Wigmore Hall

Piano Quartet Movement in A minor
Piano Quartet in F minor, Op.2
Piano Quartet in A, Op.26

Fauré Quartet [Dirk Mommertz (piano), Erika Geldsetzer (violin), Sascha Frömbling (viola) & Konstantin Heidrich (cello)]

Reviewed by: Tully Potter

Reviewed: 12 September, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This Wigmore Hall concert marked the 20th-anniversary of the Parkhouse Award, which commemorates the renowned chamber music pianist David Parkhouse (1930–89), so it was fitting that a former winning ensemble was performing.

Despite its name, the Fauré Quartet hails from Germany, and this was a Germanic programme, culminating in Brahms’s massive A major Piano Quartet. I heard a particularly outstanding performance of this work a month ago at Marlboro, and the contrast was instructive. The Marlboro account, intensively rehearsed but only for a matter of weeks, was very passionate and all-of-a-piece, with three young players and a slightly older mentor conveying freshness and a sense of discovery. For the Fauré Quartet the work is a central plank of the repertoire; and the Germans paced it more spaciously. Whereas one could argue that the Marlboro players took the Hungarian-tinged finale too fast, there were perhaps too many changes of tempo in the Wigmore account, rendering it rather episodic. The Fauré Quartet was particularly good at differentiating the muted and non-muted string passages in the Poco adagio. One did not, however, hear a true una corda effect from the piano (for that, try the old Busch-Serkin recording). Brahms’s amazing scherzo was very well done. In fact, all evening the piano- and string-playing per se was of a very high standard, although an air of calculation crept in, every now and again.

This aspect was especially noticeable in the Mahler movement, about which I cannot get worked up. Had it been written by, say, Hans Rott, we would never hear it. True, it starts with quite a pregnant piano passage, but the baby never gets delivered. The Fauré foursome gave plenty of commitment to a motif which Mahler rather belabours but it was all somewhat self-aware and unconvincing.

The players clearly enjoyed themselves in a much better teenage creation, the second of Mendelssohn’s three piano quartets. I would have liked even more lightness, not to mention a little more transparency in the textures; but the return of the Adagio’s main theme on the piano, towards the end of the movement, was memorable. It was one of those occasions when the encore slightly shows up what has gone before. The tiny ‘Scherzino’ from Alexander Tansman’s Suite-Divertissement was played in so natural, relaxed and entertaining a fashion that I was left longing to hear the whole work.

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