25th October 2019
|Schumann||String Quartet in A minor Op. 41 No. 1|
|Schubert||String Quartet in G major D997|
A full Hall, an anticipatory audience, and the prize-winning Esmé Quartet to entertain us – what better start could we have had to our 2019-20 season? We began with Webern’s Langsamer Satz, an early piece, totally uncharacteristic of his later output. One might have regarded this as a trifle to ease us into the main business of the evening, but the quartet’s precise ensemble, close attention to dynamics, and an enthusiasm for the restless, questing, harmonies, achieved a coherent musical statement which in other hands might have sounded diffuse.
The Quartet Op 41, No. 1 clearly demonstrates Schumann’s temperament – restless, troubled, passionate, joyful and withdrawn - a bewildering variety of emotions. Classical Sturm und Drang, wedded to passages of Mendelssohnian delicacy, with the composer’s inspiration and technique coming together at white heat - the Esmés navigated all this expertly; ensemble was precise, and considerable expertise employed to make the musical argument sound natural and unforced. They enjoyed it, and so did we!
In the D887 quartet we come “up close and personal” with the darker, more desperate, side of Schubert’s personality. He knows his time is short; rage, regret, terror and longing all compete in the major and minor shifts which occur throughout this piece. To communicate all these convincingly requires resolution, technical assurance, and a willingness to take risks, as well as musical insight. The Esmés were equal to the task, and again their sheer enjoyment of the music shone through. A truly prizewinning performance.
As a relaxing palate-cleanser, their encore was a charming arrangement of a Korean folksong.
The enthusiastic reaction of the audience demonstrated that for them our next concert can’t come soon enough.
Reviewer: Stephen Terry
Photographer: David James