The Schubert Ensemble – French piano quartets

schubert-ensemble

The Schubert Ensemble Milton Court, 11 March 2015.

An evening chamber music concert has the potential to take the sting and stress out of a busy day – as was the case here, with the Schubert Ensemble giving their first recital at the still relatively new Milton Court venue.

As an annex to the Barbican Centre in the City of London the hall is a desirable alternative to its larger cousin – which remains difficult to navigate even after two decades! Milton Court feels fresh and exciting, though it can get a bit claustrophobic around the bar area when the main hall is turning out.
Thankfully the Schubert Ensemble’s music making was airy enough to completely dispel any discomfort, though they had a few problems of their own to contend with in the shape of violinist Simon Blendis, who had fractured his arm.

Blendis, allocated the role of compère, praised his more than able stand-in, Krysia Osostowicz, one of the finest chamber musicians around – and she fitted seamlessly into the group’s music making here. Though unfortunately not credited in the program, William Howard (piano), Osostowicz, Douglas Paterson (viola) and Jane Salmon (cello) were all at the top of their game.

Unfortunately because of the injury we lost the Saint-Saëns Piano Quartet from the program, which was a shame as this not often performed, and the Schubert Ensemble doubtless have the energy and grace from which this work would benefit. Instead of that, however, we had the First Piano Quartet of Fauré – which was not exactly a hardship, for this is a lovely, tuneful work where emotion simmers just below the surface, breaking through in a passionate finale. Led by their superb pianist Howard, the group played with poise and control but clearly felt the music, and the resultant half-hour passed quickly!

After the interval a close musical relation of Fauré, Ernest Chausson, took his chance to shine in the form of a substantial Piano Quartet, a work he completed in 1897. There is an unexpected Eastern flavour to the opening of this piece – of Chinese origin, arguably – and Howard held back a bit on the tempo to give this plenty of air. Douglas Paterson found real depths of emotion in his viola solo from the slow movement, while the third movement waltz swung dolefully.

To begin with we had heard music from the composer after which the Schubert Ensemble are named – a movement for String Trio (violin, viola and cello) from 1816. This musical palette cleanser proved a suitable introduction to the two meatier works on the program.

A Spotify playlist containing the works heard can be accessed below. The Fauré is as recorded by the Schubert Ensemble themselves: