Notos Piano Quartet at Purcell Room – Frank Bridge, Saint-Saëns & Dvořák

Phantasie in F sharp minor
Piano Quartet in B flat, Op.41
Piano Quartet No.2 in E flat, Op.87

Notos Piano Quartet [Antonia Köster (piano), Sindri Lederer (violin), Liisa Randalu (viola) & Florian Streich (cello)]

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 6 February, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room

Currently the latest recipient of The Parkhouse Award, the Notos Piano Quartet – named after the sometimes-gentle, sometimes stormy South Wind – was formed in 2007.

This impressive Purcell Room recital opened with Frank Bridge’s Phantasie (1910), its romantic flourishes immediately grabbing the attention, the players’ sensitivity fully attuned to the music’s introspection, suggestive of lost love, and then revealing with relish the faster music’s gawky rhythms.

This beautifully balanced and blended account of Bridge’s lovely piece (did one of its ideas grow into the expansive tune of the orchestral Rebus from thirty years later?) was played with empathy and unanimity and set the tone for the evening, the Notos players unfailingly responsive, interactive and characterful; and what a fine pianist Antonia Köster is: everything she played caught the ear with meaning yet never once did she step out of true with her colleagues.

However, each member of the Notos Piano Quartet is a musical poet and how well they work together. They brought generous lyricism to the always-innovative Saint-Saëns’s Opus 41, its four substantial movements revealed for their craftsmanship and enticing ideas. Whether through crispness of Baroque figuration, concern for the rapacious third movement’s note-values and ornaments, or through sustaining the energy of the finale, this was a performance of confidence and commitment.

The Dvořák, another wonderful chamber-music statement, enjoyed similar championing. Whether terse, heroic or proudly strutting, the Notos Piano Quartet presented the first movement with the ink still wet – a reading fully studied and prepared yet with spontaneity and electric outreach. Opening with a plaintive cello melody, the slow movement ranged from eloquent to impassioned, the dance-music of the third movement was delicious, and the finale’s rhythms were chiselled.

As an encore, the outer sections of the scherzo from Richard Strauss’s sole Piano Quartet had its whimsical curlicues given with zest. Possibly the ‘extra’ should have been something slow and gentle to contrast with Dvořák’s final exuberance, but one thing is not in doubt, that the Notos Piano Quartet is already at the top of its particular tree, a group of notable musicians.

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