Nicholas Yonge Society

International Chamber Music in Lewes

Arcadia Quartet with Katya Apekisheva (piano)

24th March 2023
Mozart D minor Fantasy K397
Weinberg String Quartet No. 6 in E minor Op. 35
Brahms Piano Quintet Op. 34 in F minor

We were promised a spectacular close to this year’s concert season and the Arcadia String Quartet with pianist Katya Apekisheva certainly did not disappoint us.

Katya began the programme with the mysterious and magical improvisation of Mozart’s famous D minor Fantasia. With its tumble of notes and driving rhythms, her dramatic and romantic interpretation drew us into a dark landscape before emerging into the sunny uplands of a much more Mozartian melody.

The main work in the first half was the String Quartet no. 6 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg whom I must confess I had never come across before. Traian Boală introduced us to the composer by putting this substantial work into both its historical context and the tragic life of Weinberg himself. After fleeing from Poland at the outbreak of World War II he settled in Russia and became a friend of Shostakovich who protected him from becoming an enemy of the people. The rest of his family were killed in the Warsaw ghetto. The quartet was never performed in the composer’s lifetime and was not heard until 2007, some eleven years after his death. Written in the late 1940’s performances were banned by the Soviet Composers'Union as too bleak for public consumption.

The influence of Shostakovich was evident in the opening melody where Weinberg used pizzicato extensively to accompany the angular tunes. A more frenetic atmosphere then pervaded the movement before it subsided into a calmer conclusion. The quartet revelled in the wide palette of the score showing the commitment all the players have for this fascinating music.

In the second movement the full fury of the composer was unleashed perhaps explaining why the work was banned. The players entered into this with gusto, fully committed to the wild and savage harmony. They created an exquisite balance to the wide chords which brought a funerial end to all the violence.

The fourth movement adagio opened with an etherial duet between the viola of Traian Boală and violin of Răsvan Dumitru, soon to be joined by the cello of Zsolt Török. This set the melancholic tone for the many conversations between instruments led by the violin of Ana Török.

Muted strings throughout the fifth movement created a very special soft timbre which suited the shifting sands of tonality. The duet between Ana Török and Traian Boală had echoes of Prokofiev which makes the lack of visibility of Weinberg all the more tragic. I asked a Russian musician if he had ever heard of Weinberg and he hadn’t either, despite the 17 string quartets, 25 symphonies, and 40 film scores.

The final movement had something of film music about it with its rhythmic drive often emphasised by pizzicato accompaniment. The mood remained dark throughout with strong dissonances. The whole work was very convincingly performed and their championing of this forgotten composer will do much to bring him to a wider public.

One work constituted the second half of the programme; Brahms’ monumental masterpiece - his Piano Quintet Opus 34 in F minor. The quartet, joined by Katya Apekisheva, caught the magic in the broad, expansive melodies and the power of the rhythms. This was ensemble playing of the highest order with the piano providing an intensity and drive which was exciting and captivating. Brahms is at his most inventive in this piece which brought the programme to a fabulous conclusion.

The Andante movement showed how meticulous has been the preparation of this work as the balance and playing was impeccable. The Scherzo was a glorious contrast with its dark drama followed by a bombastic march-like melody.

The mysterious opening of the final movement gives way to an exciting conclusion to the work full of colour and rhythm in which the piano provides the impetus. Katya’s playing did exactly that without overpowering the strings. It was an evening of chamber music playing of the highest order and much enjoyed by the ample audience whose calls of approval and prolonged applause said it all. A marvellous end to the season.

Review​er: ​Nicolas Chisholm

Photograp​her: David James