Francesco Piemontesi & Navarra Quartet

Préludes, Book II: La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune
Préludes, Book I: Les collines d’Anacapri; La fille aux chevaux de lin; Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest
String Quartet in G minor, Op.20/3
Piano Quintet in E flat, Op.44

Francesco Piemontesi (piano)

Navarra Quartet [Magnus Johnston & Marije Ploemacher (violins), Simone van der Giessen (viola) & Nathaniel Boyd (cello)]

Reviewed by: Alan Pickering

Reviewed: 26 July, 2010
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Navarra String Quartet. Photograph: Meta4 unable to appear due to the illness of its cellist, and thus the postponement of Jouni Kaipainen’s String Quartet No.6 (a BBC co-commission), Francesco Piemontesi was joined at short notice by the Navarra Quartet, an unexpected Proms debut for its members.

Piemontesi went solo for the opening of the recital. Debussy composed his two Books of Préludes, twelve in each over a four-year period commencing in late 1909. Piemontesi chose four. He gave a flowing and uncomplicated performance moving almost seamlessly between the delicacies of ‘La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune’, based on an impression of the Coronation of George V, the strong sense of community of the villagers on Anacapri, the serenity of La fille aux chevaux de lin, based a poem by the French poet Leconte de Lisle and the destructiveness of Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest.

Haydn’s G minor String Quartet from the Opus 20 “Sun” collection replaced the Kaipainen. Displaying very few indications of nervousness, the members of the Navarra Quartet quickly found their collective feet. The opening Allegro was lively, the sombre Minuet delicate, the Poco Adagio wonderfully sonorous (with a beautifully played cello interlude) and a superbly articulate finale.

Francesco Piemontesi. Photograph: returned for Schumann’s Piano Quintet, the Navarra’s violinists exchanging roles. More of a concerto, Schumann wrote this piece for his wife to perform without the need for an orchestra to accompany her. Whether true or not Clara Schumann (née Wieck) certainly premiered the work in January 1843 and played it many times thereafter.

Given the lack of rehearsal time together (Piemontesi hinted at only a couple of hours, although he acknowledged that the composer’s score and notes assisted greatly!) this was an excellent performance with no hint of unpreparedness. The opening movement sparkled and played with feeling, the more-funereal second movement displaying some lovely interplay between violins and piano with the scherzo frantically accelerating, and the finale satisfyingly triumphant. It was altogether stirring, Piemontesi’s understated manner wonderfully complemented by the expressive playing of the Navarra Quartet.

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