Owen/Apekisheva/Chilingirian, Kings Place (4/5, 3/5)

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When Kings Place opened three years ago, it was expected to challenge the Wigmore Hall’s hegemony. Its boat-shaped wooden auditorium was a beautiful twenty-first century answer to the Wigmore’s Edwardian space, and its acoustic was just as perfect. But the challenge did not materialise. While the Wigmore is routinely packed out, Kings Place is in my experience usually less than half full, (though its subsidiary auditorium is doing a brisk trade in jazz and literary events).

Why should this be? One answer is that Kings Place can’t rival (yet?) the sheer starriness of the Wigmore, where the best singers and players in the world queue up to perform. Kings Place’s roster of performers can be adventurous, but not many of them make you clear your diary. In ten years’ time, when the industrial wasteland which it inhabits has become a cultural hub to rival the Southbank, all will doubtless be well, but in the meantime it needs to take a leaf out of the Wigmore’s book and systematically grow its audience. The Wigmore devotes serious manpower to this end, and Kings Place should do so too. Casual word of mouth – plus reviews – is not enough.

But Kings Place’s ‘Mozart Unwrapped’ series is one of its successes, with last weekend’s concerts well up to par. Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva began their survey of Mozart’s four-hand piano music with the rarely-performed ‘Adagio and Allegro (Fantasia) in F minor, K 594’, a late work which the composer himself said he got bored stiff writing. Part of it was designed to be played in a mausoleum on a mechanical organ, and as this pair played it there were moments when that purpose was comically hinted at. They gave the fugue in ‘Adagio and Fugue for Two Pianos, K 426’ a whirling demonic energy, but the high point of their recital came with the ‘Sonata for Keyboard four-hands in F’. The first movement was symphonic, with high and low woodwind seeming to speak antiphonally across vast spaces; the ornamentation in the Andante was as expressive as the singing melodic lines, with the finale bright and brilliant.

Meanwhile the Chilingirian Quartet gave us two early quartets, and two late ones including the extraordinary ‘Dissonance’. There were times when their intonation was a bit approximate, but it was good to bask in their warm, full sound.