MUSIC / Adapt and survive: Domus Piano Quartet - Wigmore Hall

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The Independent Culture
Baroque composers were not averse to rearranging their pieces for unlikely forces. An instrumental work could be quarried to create a cantata chorus, a violin concerto could be refashioned for keyboard. Practicalities were all-important, and in spite of the inspired suitability of much of the era's instrumental writing, pure dialectic still carried weight independently of colour.

By Mozart's time, timbre was beginning to play a more specific role, and arrangements were becoming more damaging to a work's tissue. He could still adapt the wind Serenade in C minor for string quintet, creating one masterpiece out of another, but this was an isolated example.

It was fascinating then to hear an arrangement for piano quartet of the famous Quintet for Piano and Wind K452, which was performed by Domus in their Wigmore Hall recital on Saturday. First published three years after Mozart's death, the arrangement was for a time better known than the wind original, which had to wait longer for publication. It eventually fell into neglect, however, and Domus's performance was claimed as the first in modern times.

A remark attributed to Mozart's widow suggested that the composer himself had had no hand in the arrangement, and this probably played its part in discrediting the version. One hearing surely confirms the matter. Despite many points of interest, including a genuine concern for the different expressive world of strings, the Piano Quartet could not have been Mozart's work. There are too many moments of uncharacteristic spacing and treatment for it to bear his inimitable fingerprint.

Bearing in mind the overwhelming importance to Mozart of colour and timbre in the articulation of ideas, one could in any case hardly imagine so radical a transformation of a work intimately bound to its chosen instrumental forces. The wisdom of hindsight no doubt played a part in our responses, but the string writing constantly seemed a pale substitute for the wind original.

Still, this was a thoroughly worthwhile project, and apart from experiencing the work in the form in which many of Mozart's contemporaries first knew it, there was the additional fascination of hearing an alternative ending which appears in the original autograph and was clearly known to the arranger, oddly truncated yet undoubtedly in Mozart's hand.

Domus played the work with style and imagination, if somewhat carefully, as they did earlier the undoubted Mozart arrangement of a J C Bach sonata in his Concerto in G K107. After the interval, however, we heard the most full blooded performance imaginable of the young Richard Strauss's astounding Piano Quartet in C minor. What stunning invention in the scherzo - the audience buzzing after its course - and what contrapuntal wizardry in the finale. With Susan Tomes' vivid piano playing driving the interpretation forward, this was a performance to recall with delight.

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