Schubert – Maria João Pires & Friends (2)

Overture in C minor, D8a
Du liebst mich nicht, D756
Daß sie hier gewesen, D775
Du bist die Ruh, D776
Lachen und Weinen, D777
Piano Trio in E flat, D929
Impromptus, D935: No.3 in B flat; No.4 in F minor
Fantasie in F minor, D940
Nacht und Träume, D827

Maria João Pires (piano) with Ricardo Castro (piano), Rufus Müller (tenor) and Brodsky Quartet [Priya Mitchell & Ian Belton (violins), Paul Cassidy (viola) & Jacqueline Thomas (cello)]

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 8 May, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This, the second of three Schubert concerts involving the much sought-after Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires with her Friends, was an intense experience. With the audience under welcome orders not to offer any applause until the interval and then the end of the concert (although some selfish people chose to ignore this) it was clear that the performers were yearning to revel in the music, with no histrionics. This is what we got, and it is owing to the musicians’ dedication to the Cause of music-making that they were all here performing in this very personal setting.

The Brodsky Quartet played the one piece: Schubert’s early Overture in C minor (1811), written when he was about fourteen. This is a serious work and it was given a suitably solemn reading. The mood was established with the sombre opening chord with the sense of the music dragging its feet – how it should be. Things got jogging in the Allegro where the suitably-forceful guest principal violinist, Priya Mitchell, led the way without looking back.

Rufus Müller was so much a part of the music he was singing that one might think he had written it himself, so much from his soul did it seems to come. Rightly, his body and arms remained motionless; his devotion to the sounds was paramount. Pires’s humble accompaniment was spell-binding in its mysterious simplicity; thus, it did not distract from Müller’s own artistry. The declarations of “you do not love me” in the opening song were given a duly heartless feel by Müller. Later on, in “You are repose”, there was the clear sense of hope and wanting of a better future to come, but, perhaps, more sagaciousness regarding the puzzlement with his heart in such lines as “In the evening I wept with grief; and why you can wake in the morning with laughter” was needed. Fortunately, in this song, Pires was electrifying, conveying all that was needed. “Night and dreams” closed the concert – it was dreamlike but the Hall’s lights should have been turned right down for this one.

The E flat Piano had Ricardo Castro at the keyboard, with Pires turning the pages of his score – very much the schoolmistress! This account was mixed indeed, with the outer movements being successful. The opening of the second movement disfigured what followed: Castro got it off to a lightening start which resulted in the rest having to be played relative to this speed, robbing the cello of intense and searching passion. It also meant that the theme’s recurrence (used to haunting effect in Stanley Kubrick’s film “Barry Lyndon”) in the final movement proffered no contrast. In the first movement, to the players’ credit, Schubert’s music breathed. Similarly, the Allegro moderato finale had an energy and verve that allowed three very independent voices to be heard, with, somehow, remarkable unison.

The two Impromptus were dashed off with apparent ease by Pires. Fluidity and dance-like gestures characterised the playing, which was very persuasive. Inexplicably, towards the end of the F minor Impromptu, there was the sense that Pires’s politics might just be getting in the way of the music, as it was all laid on a bit thick.

The Fantasie, for piano/four hands, was played with the same unwavering dedication, and was the highlight of the evening. The command and relentlessness, in parts, were quite devastating for performers and audience alike. The whole evening, mostly, was superb.

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