Wigmore Hall Coffee Concert

String Quartet in B flat, K458 (Hunt)
Piano Quintet No.1 in D minor, Op.89 [New edition by Roy Howat]

Panocha Quartet [Jiri Panocha & Pavel Zejfart (violins), Miroslav Sehnoutka (viola) & Jaroslav Kulhan (cello)

Roy Howat (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 27 November, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Few more cultured starts to a Sunday could be imagined than hearing Mozart’s ‘Hunt’ Quartet at the Wigmore Hall – especially in this genteel, understated reading, which was ideal for a Sunday morning. Firmly within the Central European tradition, the Panocha Quartet perfectly evoked the civility and invention of Viennese Classicism; so well-known a work heard with fresh ears.

The Panocha consciously integrates the violins; unlike many quartets, the first violin does not stand out. This augments the sense of a homogenous but subtly varied texture. It must, however, also be said that the leader did show some striking flaws of intonation in the fast passages of the first and last movements. One is reminded of the Végh Quartet, where technical perfection was often absent from what could be the profoundest performances.

Whereas the Mozart is undoubtedly his most familiar quartet, the first of Fauré’s Piano Quintet is almost unknown. Its neglect, announced Roy Howat (who is also responsible for a new edition of the work), might be because it has been played significantly slower than its true speed for the last eighty years or so. Howat was an able interpreter, playing crisply in the outer movements, lyrically in the middle Adagio and rousing himself for the heroic peroration – far more effective at its new speed – that concluded the work.

Fauré’s early chamber music is virtuoso and direct in its appeal; as his writing progressed, it became increasingly allusive, if not elusive, a metaphor for the progress of Impressionism. The effect of the much-faster speeds was to give the work more of a robust, middle-period feel (the original was fifteen years in the writing and therefore spanned a considerable portion of Fauré’s career). The Panocha, with its non-showy approach, proved an excellent partner for Howat. There was nothing better in the whole performance than the expansive opening to the first movement.

It is a shame, especially in view of the Fauré’s rarity, that there were no programme notes available, perhaps with some information on the changes made for Howat’s edition. However, the artist biographies usefully reminded us that of the many famous Czech quartets, the Panocha is the only ensemble to have retained its original membership, almost forty years on; the ease and relaxed confidence with which its members play together is a result of such long familiarity.

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