Ludwig Quartet & Iwan Llewelyn-Jones

String Quartet in D minor, K421
Piano Quintet in F minor

Ludwig Quartet
[Jean-Philippe Audoli & Elenid Owen (violins), Padrig Fauré(viola) & Anne Copery (cello)]

Iwan Llewelyn-Jones (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 19 February, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

We associate French music, and the French intellect in general, with irony, allusiveness and stylish passion. It’s impossible to know whether generalisations can be made about French interpretations of German music, but the Gallic background of the Ludwig Quartet certainly produced a civilised account of the Mozart, sometimes refined to the point of fastidiousness but always characterised by sweetness of tone and intimacy of character.

This is the third Mozart string quartet I have heard opening this season’s Coffee Concerts, and for the third time there were intonation and ensemble problems in the first movement exposition. The last two movements were easily the most successful, marked by Padrig Fauré’s eloquent viola playing in the finale and unusually crisp rising appoggiaturas in the trio of the Minuet.

The Franck, from almost exactly a hundred years later, is a full-blooded Romantic work. The performers’ impressionistic, broad-brush approach did not entirely disguise the piece’s dense, intimidating textures, or the suspicion that Franck’s talent in writing big tunes and memorable motifs was not matched by his ability to develop them.

Iwan Llewelyn-Jones was best in the more reflective moments, especially the very exposed piano part in the reprise of the slow introduction before the end of the first movement and in stitching together the string texture in the Lento. The latter part of this middle movement was indeed con molto sentimento, as marked, conveying a real whiff of the nostalgia that underpins Romanticism. Again, the finale came off best, and showed the rapport between piano and quartet members – a suspenseful introduction leading to an exhilarating mixture of gallop and scurry.

The encore, which made the concert unusually long, was the slow movement of Brahms’s Piano Quintet, which invited comparison with Cedric Tiberghien’s sensitive and well-thought out account with the Cremona Quartet in January. The strictness of Brahms’s writing sorely exposed a lack of imagination on Llewelyn-Jones’s part – the first three piano phrases, for example seemed like repetitions rather than building towards an emotional intensification – and an ugly, clunky piano tone. There was also a sense of a routine, off-hand interaction between piano and strings, even raising questions as to whether a different set of performers might have made a case for the Franck as a more original, magical composition.

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