Chamber Prom 2: Piemontesi/Navarra Quartet, Cadogan Hall

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The Independent Culture

With passport glitches, illness, and death wreaking more havoc than usual in concert schedules, we’re seeing just how big the available pool of talent is.

And while this indicates the challenge musicians now face, it also represents their opportunity: many now-famous singers and instrumentalists owe their careers to the sudden indisposition of a senior rival. This it was that the Navarra String Quartet got their unexpected Proms debut, while the young Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi had just a day in which to find his modus vivendi with them in one of the most demanding works in the chamber repertoire.

To Catherine Bott’s amiable enquiry as to how this speed-dating worked, he replied – slightly out of breath after stunning us with his Debussy – that ‘the human brain can achieve weeks of work in just two hours, if the pressure is intense enough’. And it clearly was: they launched into Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major with such assurance that they might have been collaborating for years. This majestic work was written by Schumann as a miniature piano concerto which his wife Clara could perform without orchestra in private houses: Piemontesi and the Navarras gave it the requisite declamatory spaciousness from the start. As with Schumann’s piano concerto proper, this work involves constant dialogue between soloist and ensemble: with Piemontesi leading the way, they made a thrilling journey through an emotional landscape by turns sweet, spooky, throbbingly combustible, and liberatingly joyous. And if this was a flawless performance, so was the Navarra Quartet’s treatment of one of Haydn’s early masterpieces, the G minor Quartet Opus 20. They have a warmly-rounded and very expressive sound, perfectly suited to Haydn: on this showing, they are already in the first rank of his music’s exponents. Meanwhile Piemontesi – one of the BBC’s New Generation artists – is a brand-leader for Debussy: using a completely different palette from the one he revealed in the Schumann, he gave a series of preludes the most exquisitely translucent characterisation.

Representing victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, this concert - in the excellent Cadogan acoustic - is part of a highly promising Proms strand. It’s just a shame that the front-of-house facilities – particularly for the old and disabled – are so audience-unfriendly. Next year something really should be done about that.

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