Classical: Rocked by the tempest

Click to follow



THE AURYN Quartet was born in Cologne as long ago as 1981. Although they're well travelled, I can't remember them visiting this country before Saturday, when they gave a concert at the Wigmore Hall with the American pianist Peter Orth, a Naumburg Competition prizewinner, like our own Stephen Hough.

Last year Orth and the Auryn Quartet released an impressive CD of Faure's two piano quintets, and they included the second on Saturday. What emerged was how decisively Orth seemed to determine the character of the performances.

He's a very strong, even wilful, player, and quickly asserted an expansive way of phrasing in the development of the first movement of Mozart's G minor Piano Quartet. In the Rondo theme of the finale he teased out the rhythm slightly by delaying certain notes - just enough to be distinctive, but not so much as to seem artificial. It certainly didn't cause disunity with his partners.

In any case, Mozart's pianist is not harnessed to the string players quite so tightly as Faure's, and in Faure's Second Piano Quintet the possibilities of even discreet independence are pretty limited. For much of the time, the pianist is doing pretty well just to play all the notes.

With its mercurial Scherzo and, in the other three movements, strange, exploratory modulations, there's an element of wildness - though tempered by stoicism - which produces a most unusual and ambiguous emotional climate. Despite the radiant C major conclusion, which arrives rather sooner than expected (because the finale is so concise), the prevalent emotions are something like sadness and resignation. But one of the many wonderful things about this music is that you can't be sure.

There was nothing uncertain, though, in the assurance and power of Saturday's performance. The musicians sounded as if they had really lived a long time with the music, and the Scherzo was breathtaking. I pitied Orth's hapless page-turner.

Faure was unique in writing two masterpieces for a comparatively rare and rather problematic medium. But probably the best known of all piano quintets is the one by Brahms - although, ironically, he took a long time to decide exactly which instruments he was writing it for.

These players gave the first movement a feeling of deep emotional struggle, dramatising its adventures at some expense of line, so that the total effect was distinctly storm-tossed. I'm not really complaining: the playing was so committed, and the slowly rocking motion of the second movement was most artfully tilted, first by Orth, then by the strings, as if beguiling us into slumber. No holds barred, either, in the Scherzo and final movement.