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Powerfully Sonorous

Fauré, Bliss, Brahms and Weber
played by the Frith Piano Quartet,
and reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Former Derby mayor Jeffrey Tillett supported the city's artistic, especially musical, life devotedly for many years. So it was apt (as well as, apparently, completely fortuitous) that Derby Chamber Music should have chosen as his memorial concert this one by the Frith Piano Quartet (Multi-Faith Centre, Derby University, Derby, UK, 5 December 2008), since the ensemble comprises, along with violinist Robert Heard and violist Louise Williams, two players who benefited directly from his encouragement, pianist Benjamin Frith and cellist Richard Jenkinson.

They launched Fauré's Piano Quartet No 1 with a big-boned, passionate account of the first movement that set the tone for the whole performance -- indeed, the whole evening. Their powerfully sonorous playing was marked by the utmost precision; I don't think I've ever heard such utterly unanimous pizzicatos.

The scherzo second movement was not quite as airborne as some performances I've heard, but there was plenty of forward impetus. The finale got a little overheated towards the end.

Bliss's Piano Quartet is a very early work, from 1915, whose lyrical, pastoral lines are not typical of the more radical style he adopted in the early 1920s. He withdrew it, and it has only come back into circulation in the last few years. It got in many ways the most successful performance of the evening. The sweetness of the opening movement was not allowed to become cloying, and there was a nice sense of playfulness in the second.

The dark, tragic qualities of Brahms's C minor Piano Quartet tempted the players into a fierce, take-no-prisoners approach which was not totally convincing. They found an intriguingly provisional quality in the third movement's gentle lyricism, underlining the fact that it is simply an interlude in the overall drama. But the finale got a bit unrelenting, full of power and drive but missing some of the music's more subtle shadings.

The Minuet from Weber's Piano Quartet was a charming but unnecessary encore.

Copyright © 13 December 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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