Artemis Quartet – with Friedemann Weigle (viola) on the far right.
Markus Groh (piano), Members of the Artemis Quartet – Vineta Sareika (violin), Gregor Sigl (viola), Eckart Runge (cello) – Wigmore Hall, London, live on BBC Radio 3, 30 November 2015
Listening link (open in a new window):
on the iPlayer until 30 December
In case you cannot hear the broadcast, here is a Spotify playlist of the Brahms played in this concert, from available versions on Spotify:
What’s the music?
Bach/Piazzolla, arr. Eckart Runge: Partita for StringTrio – In Memoriam Friedemann Weigle (18 minutes)
Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60 (1875) (35 minutes)
What about the music?
This concert was a tribute to the violist Friedemann Weigle, a member of the Artemis Quartet who sadly died at the age of 53 earlier this year. The quartet write this about the Bach / Piazzolla suite with which they begin, arranged by their cellist Eckart Runge:
“Featuring excerpts from Bach‘s Goldberg Variations, the English Suite BWV808 and the Sinfonia BWV795, as well as two fragments from Piazzolla‘s Oblivion and Fuga 9, the Partita for Trio spans the lifetime of Friedemann, from his beginnings as a church musician’s son to his time as a member of the Artemis Quartett. In 2012, when we were conceptualising our Bach-Piazzolla suite, Friedemann was devoted to arranging the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. He had a special affinity for the music of Bach, music that had accompanied him since his childhood. At the same time, he had been fascinated by pop music – from rock to jazz – since his youth. Indeed, he often proudly said that his first public musical performance was as a drummer in a rock band. Friedemann’s curiosity for new musical forms once again became apparent when he learned – and learned to love – Piazzolla’s Tango Nuevo through the Artemis Quartett.
We performed the Aria from the Goldberg Variations at Friedemann’s funeral. The idea then came about for us to honour Friedemann through the arrangement of a Partita, which would bring together these two aspects of his musical interests and, as a trio, to show the absence of a beloved friend.”
Sometimes in a concert it almost does not matter what the standard of performing is like, and this was one such occasion. Unfortunately Arcana was unable to attend but I am sure you will be able to gauge the depth of feeling immediately from the sensitive Bach arrangements, which are arranged into a very effective suite.
The BBC Radio 3 announcer Sara Mohr-Pietsch tells us that the last recording at which Friedemann was present was of Brahms String Quartets – and so the group have been performing Brahms with guest pianists on their tour. There is an extra poignancy and potency to their performance of the C minor Piano Quartet No.3, with a depth of feeling that even over the radio is very intense. The resilience and power of the outer movements is most impressive, the rhythms are sharply defined and the slow movement is the soft, beautifully played centre of the performance.
What should I listen out for?
Bach / Piazzolla
1:40 – a solemn opening passage of music, where the held notes on the string trio could be mistaken for the sonorities of the bandoneon – an instrument Piazzolla often used.
5:54 – a fugue – presumably from Bach’s English Suite BWV808 – begins, the players using next to no vibrato and keeping their bows near the bridge of their instruments by the sound of things, to secure quite a coarse sound – but then there is much more of Piazzolla appearing as the music moves into a characterful dance at 7:30. Then at 8:06 the mood changes abruptly again, returning to sorrowful memories.
17:18 – the Aria from the Goldberg Variations signals a switch from the sorrowful minor key to a much more optimistic major. With it the instruments bring more vibrato. The versatility of Bach’s music is very clear in this arrangement, the parts beautifully even in their distribution.
Markus Groh (piano)
23:23 – the piece begins with a slow introduction, where a single unison from the piano brings in the strings with their theme. This call and response is repeated. At 24:22 the first movement proper begins, and is notable for its full texture and big musical statement. The music then subsides a little to softer, undulating thoughts and a second theme at 25:30 from the piano. Brahms continues with some powerful statements from both forces. At 31:42 the music is more graceful, led by the piano, but soon the fraught atmosphere returns, and at 32:57 the mood of the slow introduction returns, and the first movement finishes.
33:52 – the Scherzo, which as so often with Brahms features nervy crossrhythms and the feeling of piano versus strings. At 35:12 there is a flowing passage but still the nervousness is present – and at 36:34 the main theme returns, with razor sharp accuracy from the players, before an emphatic finish moves the music from C minor to C major.
38:21 – the slow movement begins with the cello softly playing, an elegiac line that is beautifully rendered here by Eckart Runge over a quiet piano accompaniment. Soon he is joined by the violin and the pattern for this deeply felt piece of music is set, the instruments sticking closely together but playing music of great tenderness and feeling. The movement ends quietly and thoughtfully at 47:45.
47:58 – the finale begins with a sense of nervousness again, the piano figuration dancing around the violin theme, before the music really cuts loose with all four instruments, Brahms unleashing the power at his disposal. In this performance the group take the repeat at 50:00. Then the music moves farther afield, in terms of its distance from the harmonies Brahms uses for the main key – before returning around the 53:35 mark – where we hear another account of the main melody on a lower part of the violin. The work as a whole leaves a strong impression, with a thoroughly convincing finish.
Brahms enjoyed writing for the piano with stringed instruments, and his other two Piano Quartets are massive works but ones that repay repeated listening. The more popular of the two is the Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor, a really impressive structure that is one of the composer’s earliest large scale chamber works. The Piano Quartet No.2 in A major followed soon after…and both are given excellent performances on this album from pianist Nicholas Angelich, string playing brothers Renaud and Gautier Capuçon (violin and cello respectively) and Gérald Caussé (viola):