Hampstead and Highgate Festival 2010 – Fauré Quartett

Piano Quartet in G minor, K478
Piano Quartet in F minor, Op.2
Piano Quartet in E flat, Op.47

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

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 1 October, 2010
Venue: Dyne House, Highgate School, London

The revamped Hampstead & Highgate Festival now cleverly plugs the traditionally quiet, late-summer period in the capital’s music, and has done so this year with a programme inspired by Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. This has coincided neatly with the V&A’s big autumn show, thus forging even stronger cultural links between the Royal Borough and the People’s Republic of Camden. The schedule, planned by the fine pianist Danny Diver, has spread its Diaghilev net impressively wide, but Driver has also found room for a few unrelated events, including this recital from the Fauré Quartett.

This members of this German ensemble, apparently the only professional piano quartet in that country, came together 15 years ago – they must have been very young – and have established a high reputation for themselves. Coincidentally, another of my all-time memorable chamber music experiences was also courtesy of the H&H festival, a stupendous Verklärte Nacht from the Nash Ensemble, and this concert was easily, and intensely, in that superlative league.

The calibre of the four musicians was clear from the outset. In the Mozart, Erika Geldsetzer produced an attractive ‘period’, non-vibrato sound for a work that has quite a few identity problems. Is it a chamber version of a piano concerto? Or is it a feisty sonata for violin or viola and piano? The Fauré Quartett’s fiery performance, with a particularly driven piano part from Dirk Mommertz, had the stature of this great, complex work at its fingertips, completely at ease with the drama of the first movement as with the veiled romance of the sublime Andante.

The Mendelssohn is one of those amazingly accomplished works written when the composer was a mere 14 years old, but it doesn’t have the layers of the Mozart. Again, Dirk Mommertz was very firmly in the driving seat, fulfilling a dazzlingly virtuosic role to which the strings largely play ‘second fiddle’. He whipped up a perfect storm of relentlessly glittering passagework with almost comical insouciance, and somehow managed to engineer a smile out of the more-relaxed finale. It’s not a work to warm to, not like the Octet written two years later, but the Fauré Quartett got as near as any group to persuading me otherwise.

No such persuasion was needed for their inspirational performance of the Schumann, which summoned up the elusive passion, exuberance and melancholy that makes the best of Schumann so intensely satisfying. Konstantin Heidrich’s melting cello ’song’ in the slow movement will linger for some time, and the performance as a whole was remarkable for its lovely warmth and breadth, and the players brought an intuitive ear to Schumann’s inimitable style of fantasy.

I’d heard about this group of musicians, but had not heard them before. Anyway, I now know what all the fuss is about, and it was well worth splashing through a dark and stormy night to start what I hope will be long relationship. The Fauré Quartett is scheduled to play no fewer than three times at the Wigmore Hall next year. Don’t miss!

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