Waldstein Ensemble at Wigmore Hall

Piano Quartet in G minor, K478
Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor, Op.45
Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor, Op.25

Waldstein Ensemble [Noam Greenberg (piano), Gerhard Schulz (violin), Guy Ben-Ziony (viola) & Lilia Schulz-Bayrova (cello)]

Reviewed by: Tully Potter

Reviewed: 19 July, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Waldstein EnsembleG minor, anyone? This programme could serve as a springboard for meditations on the variety of approaches to this key, a challenge not taken up by Gerald Larner in his otherwise excellent programme note. Mozart’s and Fauré’s works have a definite undertow of angst to which Fauré adds passion, almost anger. Brahms’s piece has its anxious moments, notably in the lovely Intermezzo where the strings are muted, but in the main his mood is thoroughly affirmative (for a more troubled attitude, you need to go to the C minor Piano Quartet).

I had a high opinion of the Waldstein Trio which Gerhard Schulz – well-known Viennese violinist and long-time member of the now-retired Alban Berg Quartett – formed with his cellist wife and a different pianist. But that alliance came to an end and now the Schulzes have this superb flexible ensemble with two young Israeli musicians: they can play piano trios or string trios as well as the rewarding piano-quartet repertoire.I was most impressed by both the newcomers. Noam Greenberg (based in London) is a tremendous pianist who manages to do everything required of him without showing off. He played with beautiful tone and style in the Mozart and every now and again threw in a tasteful decoration, even an Eingang in the finale. When embellishments are done as well as this, they enhance the enjoyment of anyone who knows the score well. The string-playing was lovely in the Mozart.

At the opening of the Fauré (unison strings against piano) I wondered if having the piano lid wide open was creating too much aural disturbance; but it bothered me only once or twice. Did the players slow down a little too much for the second subject? I grew up with the Long-Thibaud-Vieux-Fournier recording, which hardly lets up. Anyway, if not exactly French in profile, the Waldstein performance was passionate in the outer movements, with a furious close to the finale, and intense in the inner ones – in both of which Guy Ben-Ziony had important solos. He makes a fine, focused sound on a modern French viola. Greenberg played so well that when he hit an exposed wrong note near the end, it was quite a shock.

The Brahms proved a perfect fit for these players, as one might have predicted. The question always is: will the pianist stand up to Brahms’s demands, especially in the Hungarian gypsy finale? Greenberg was the trusty pivot of an expansive interpretation which was even more exciting at the end than the Fauré. Schulz, a huge man who dwarfs his Testore violin, plays with a delicacy and accuracy quite at odds with his shaggy appearance. In this Brahms he led the charge of the strings with a panache which never tipped over into roughness. Lilia Schulz-Barova’s cello tone was especially well-attuned to this composer. Despite the entreaties of the audience, no encore was played. None was necessary.

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