String Quartet No.1, Op.11 – ii: Andante cantabile
String Quintet in C, K515
String Quartet in E minor, Op.59/2 (Razumovsky)
Members of The Nash Ensemble [Marianne Thorsen & Laura Samuel (violins), Lawrence Power & Philip Dukes (violas) and Paul Watkins (cello)]
Reviewed by: Rian Evans
Reviewed: 9 November, 2012
Venue: Assembly Rooms, Bath, England
Opening a festival dedicated to the music of Mozart with a piece by Tchaikovsky might seem rather left-field, but there’s an argument to suggest that only those who have the combination of technique and finesse required for Mozart properly get to the heart of Tchaikovsky. But had the string-players of the Nash Ensemble waved a wand over the beginning of this performance, they couldn’t have woven a more magical spell than this Andante cantabile. The muted, veiled sound conjured a misty atmosphere out of which Marianne Thorsen’s violin melodies could rise, the lower register of her instrument subtly burnished.
The sweetness of the Tchaikovsky pointed up the different instrumentation of Mozart’s K515 String Quintet, with two violas making the inner textures so much more dark and dense. With Lawrence Power colouring the notes of harmonic significance with unerring instinct and Paul Watkins seeming to guide the structural trajectory of the whole movement, the character and poise of the opening Allegro was remarkable. Mozart’s injection of a further element of development in the coda, with its insinuating chromaticism, was a reminder of just how wonderful the writing is. The Nash players made the most of the contrasts of mood in the Minuet and Trio, but it remained understated in approach so as to set things up for the slow movement. The way in which the relationship between violin and viola is worked out over the course of the Andante was exquisitely judged by Thorsen and Power, each responding to the other in the most eloquently expressive phrases and producing the most gorgeous singing tone. This emotional core was in turn balanced by a finale with the elfin lightness of Mendelssohn, taken very fast yet retaining great rhythmic vitality and playfulness.
The second half of the recital was devoted to Beethoven’s Second ‘Razumovsky’ Quartet, which proved to be a good foil to the Mozart and the Russian connection – Count Razumovsky had stipulated that there be folk-tunes in the thematic material – linked back neatly to the Tchaikovsky. The Nash musicians brought a febrile quality to the opening, which set the tenor of the movement, its dramatic tensions carefully calibrated. In the Molto Adagio, Thorsen’s playing found a balance between stillness and intensity that was again complemented by Power’s viola lines. The scherzo had a different kind of intensity, designed to maintain the piece’s overall momentum, and the hunting rhythms of the Presto finale were delivered with urgency and exuberance while reinforcing the integrity of the work as a whole.