WAGNER, SCHNITTKE & BRAHMS

Cremona Quartet
Gweneth-Ann Jeffers (soprano)
Andrea Katz (piano)

 

Fremantle Town Hall

 

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Soprano Gweneth-Ann Jeffers came to Fremantle Town Hall from Winthrop Hall, where she’d sung Berlioz’s Nuits d’Ete only days before at the opening of the Wigmore Chamber Music series.

Wagner provided the curtain raiser. The Bayreuth Master is, of course, best know for his colossal music dramas. But when he turned his mind to it, he could produce musical miniatures to woo the ear.

His settings of six poems by Mathilde Wesendonck (with whom the composer was having an affair at the time) are very fine – and Gweneth-Ann Jeffers with Andrea Katz at the piano were more than up to the challenge of these deeply probing songs to which they responded with a depth of understanding that invariably sounded entirely right.

Stehe Still! was memorably treated, its sense of urgency convincingly evoked. Whether in revealing the high emotion that informs Schmerzen (Anguish) or evoking the melancholy of Im Triebhaus (The Greenhouse), the two could hardly be faulted. I particularly liked the piano postlude to the latter; it was finely crafted

Later, Andrea Katz joined forces with the Cremona String Quartet in Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor. In the two opening movements, much was made, quite properly, of the lyrical aspects of the writing and this was confidently brought across. But although the Cremona players were splendidly virtuosic in the scherzo and finale (which is music in the grandest of grand manners), the same could not be said of the presentation of the piano part where more muscular tone, greater clarity and flamboyance as well as a significantly more emphatic attack (notably in the drumming motif of the scherzo) were needed to complement string playing of often blazing intensity. In this sense, the closing movements of the quintet were uneven and unsatisfying.

In their own right, the musicians of the Cremona Quartet were gloriously in their element in Schnittke’s String Quartet No 3. Schnittke, something of a musical magpie,is second to few in his ability to fashion meaningful music statements making use of the most unlikely ideas, procedures and styles. In fact, listening to the Cremona Quartet here was rather like peering through the peephole of a slowly revolving kaleidoscope cylinder containing not only the usual shards of coloured glass but a miscellany of odds and ends, some quite unexpected, such as, say, peppercorns, as well as a few cogs from the innards of a pocket watch. The Cremona Quartet was in dazzling form here, producing the most inspired and compelling playing of the afternoon and – after their superlative reading of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet – leaving one in little doubt that this formidable foursome is as versatile as it is gifted.

Copyright 2004

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