String Quartet in G minor, D173
String Quintet in C, D956
[Erich Höbart & Andrea Bischof (violins), Anita Mitterer (viola) & Christophe Coin (cello)] with Raphael Pidoux (cello)
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: 26 March, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Quatuor Mosaïques has forged something of a reputation in the field of period performance, and certainly on CD its complete Haydn quartets have, along with the Lindsays, become definitive. The last time I heard Quatuor Mosaïques live, the musicians essayed Beethoven’s Opus 132 and gave a very mundane and shallow performance.
But before considering these performances of Schubert, it has to be said that the programme was short, the first half lasting only 20 minutes. There is a gradual trend towards shorter concerts and it is to be hoped that premier venues such as the Wigmore Hall will stand up for the most important people – the paying public.
Schubert’s early, 1815, G minor quartet is not a particularly memorable work. Here, the opening was seriously out of tune and the first movement lacked any sense of conviction or attack and the second flowed by elegantly. In the scherzo, intonation was once again awry and while the finale was urbane the dynamic range was severely limited. More worryingly, the leader was far too prominent; in the scherzo the violist and cellist just sat there looking bored, chugging through the music, whilst the leader seemed far more improvisatory.
This problem continued into the Quintet, where time and again Höbart seemed to being playing a sonata, his colleagues merely providing accompaniment. And in the first movement the problems of limited dynamic range and attack were again to the fore, but this time they were combined with major failings such as the inaudible pizzicato in the second subject, swooping and swooning in the phrasing and swells of tone. The movement became, in effect, a serenade, with no sense of the underlying danger and angst that are an essential part of ‘late’ Schubert.
In the Adagio the opening march was foursquare and overly sweet, the sublime pizzicato conversation between the first violin and second cello was mundane, the central storm lacked ferocity and, as in the first movement, I could discern no emotional involvement.
The scherzo was laboured, with the nightmarish trio passing for nothing, and in the finale the second subject sounded more like palm court music as the rhythm and note values were pulled about and momentum lost. The players simply seemed to see the work as an exercise in sound.
On the evidence of this and the afore-mentioned Beethoven, Quatuor Mosaïques would be better playing music not requiring great emotional input; the musicians also need to look very carefully at their power structure.