Nash Ensemble [Alasdair Beatson (piano), Corey Cerovsek, Michael Gurevich (violins), Rachel Roberts (viola), Adrian Brendel (cello)]
Mozart Piano Concerto no.14 in E flat major K449 (1784)
Fauré Piano Quartet no.1 in C minor Op.15 (1876-9, rev. 1883)
Wigmore Hall, Monday 17 April 2023 1pm
by Ben Hogwood
Mozart and Fauré make a good concert match, and it was a nice touch by the Nash Ensemble to choose one of the piano concertos with which to start this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert
Although Mozart wrote two piano quartets, in 1785 and 1786, he was in the middle of a white-hot streak of creativity between where he wrote a dozen piano concertos in two years. This remarkable period of musical fluency began with the Piano Concerto no.14 in E flat major, which as it happens is highly suitable for the piano quartet combination of piano, violin, viola and cello. To this combination Mozart added one more violin, securing a highly successful domestic first performance in 1784.
The Nash Ensemble players clearly enjoyed this authentic showing. Alasdair Beatson took the solo role by balancing flair and sensitivity, while the strings ensured this attractive work was off to an airy start. That said, they weren’t afraid to dig in when the music turned towards the darker side, and the key of C minor, but E flat won out with its purely positive energy, especially when Mozart’s trill-like figure was introduced. Beatson’s cadenza was beautifully judged, virtuosic but lyrical too.
A softly rendered second movement brought through the piano’s florid figurations but also enjoyed the sweet, still motion of the strings. The Wigmore Hall seemed sunnier for the group’s approach, as it did in the bright and breezy third movement, with sparkling exchanges and a thoroughly enjoyable triple time section which the players clearly relished. This was a fine performance, fulfilling the first principles of chamber music.
Some of Fauré’s very best music can be found in his chamber works, a remarkably consistent body of work running through his career from the First Violin Sonata of 1876 to the String Quartet of 1924. The two piano quartets sit towards the top of this list, the first an outpouring of feeling in the wake of his broken engagement with Marianna Viardot.
The Nash Ensemble communicated this intensity from the passionate swell of the first melody, but there was resolve and determination too, even in Corey Cerovsek’s bittersweet violin solo during the flowing central section. This was where we felt the unique shafts of sunlight that Fauré throws into even the stormiest fast movements, and the harmonic sleight of hand that would be a standout feature of his music.
The second movement Scherzo showed off another of the composer’s traits, the ability to write light-hearted music with long phrases and unusual syncopations. The sleights of hand here were most enjoyable, with purity of tone from the strings and a dextrous piano part from Beatson.
Yet it was the slow movement that contained the emotional heart of the performance, Beatson listening attentively to the playing of his colleagues, Adrian Brendel‘s yearning cello phrase taken up in unison by the strings. Under the twinkling of Beatson’s right hand those strings spoke deeply and longingly.
Fauré had trouble with the finale, revising it after some less than positive feedback from his friends. This 1884 revision, however, turns its thoughts to the future with music of renewed resolve, another characteristically broad phrase looking outwards from the strings over typically tricky piano figures. Needless to say, the Nash Ensemble harnessed all these qualities, capping a memorable performance.
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