The new season opened in fine form with the Frith Piano Quartet (piano, violin, viola and cello), with the support of John Tattersdill’s double bass for two of the three pieces. The first item was Louise Farrenc’s Piano Quintet No.1 in A minor, of 1839, a rarity nowadays but popular in its day. It was an exciting concert-opener, featuring virtuosic piano writing and plenty of imaginative interplay between violin, viola and cello. Farrenc’s writing was close to her models (mainly Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn), but delightful in its variety. The musicians clearly understood their respective roles, the firm, clear voice from the Double Bass often contrasted with the subtle interchanges between violin, viola and cello. Benjamin Frith, the pianist for the evening, clearly enjoyed the challenge of Farrenc’s sometimes ferocious virtuosity, the only problem being that in the higher register the piano tended to sound brittle, a fault perhaps of the piano rather than the pianist. The quieter playing was lovely.
The Farrenc was followed by another French piece, Fauré’s first Piano Quartet Op.15, dating from 1877. Fauré’s composing style shuns the obvious or the merely declamatory, yet remains profoundly expressive, the slow movement in particular exploiting the power of the understatement – those simple yet uncanny passages for unison strings still linger in the ear. Then came Schubert’s ever-green Trout Quintet, a piece brimming with joie de vivre. But this performance was no romp, but managed a subtle balance between lightness and forcefulness, expression and rhetoric. Throughout the programme the ensemble held the attention of its audience by playing to and for each other with the utmost concentration. The result was a wonderfully engaging concert. I hope we will have further opportunities to hear this fine ensemble in Malvern.