Tokyo Quartet & David Watkin at Wigmore Hall – Schubert String Quintet

String Quintet in C, D956

Tokyo Quartet [Martin Beaver & Kikuei Ikeda (violins), Kazuhide Isomura (viola) & Clive Greensmith (cello)] with David Watkin (cello)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 30 March, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

For the second week in succession the BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert focussed on late Schubert. Previously it was a performance of his last string quartet; this time the String Quintet, Schubert’s last published chamber work.

Tokyo String Quartet. Photograph: Christian DucasseThis was an exceptionally well-prepared account by the now-40-year-old Tokyo Quartet (Kikuei Ikeda being a founding member), the sonorities offered by the composer’s combination of two violins, viola and two cellos ideally exploited, David Watkin, not attempting to bring too much prominence to the ‘guest’ role, made his sound a perfect complement to that of Clive Greensmith’s.

A carefully shaded opening set the scene, the surety of the first statement immediately thrown into doubt by the uncertain response. On this emotional tension rests the whole work, and the five players were careful to keep this at the forefront of their interpretation. The adopted tempo was on the slow side, but this, along with the exposition repeat, helped bring an impressive breadth to the structure. The two cellos in duet made a wonderful sound playing the second theme.

Time stood still in the famous Adagio, with beautifully shaded pizzicatos punctuating Martin Beaver’s violin melody, which gradually gained in volume and expression as it took shape. A sensitive use of vibrato helped here also, the accompanying instrumentalists often removing it altogether in the quietest passages.

In this performance the players tended to shy away from passages of loud volume, even in the fanfares of the scherzo, here sounding a little contained. Rather, greater emotion could be found in the strange, ethereal chords of the trio, the musicians almost out of earshot as they gathered themselves for the scherzo’s return.

Expressive input was carefully judged for the most part, save a few instances of portamento from Kikuei Ikeda that sounded misplaced in the first movement. Where rubato was used it was extremely effective, bringing an unmistakably Viennese flavour to the themes of the last movement.

There was a real sense of occasion throughout this performance, the players communicating closely and bringing through the piece’s range of emotions, whether brief outbursts of joy or inner moments of doubt. The audience played its part, too, with not a sound to be heard from a capacity attendance, even in the quietest of music.

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