Wednesday 13th March 2013

Mozart – Piano Quartet no. 1 in G minor K478

Huw Watkins – Piano Quartet (2012)

Elgar – Piano Quintet in A minor op. 84

The Schubert Ensemble of London last played at Ilkley in 2009. It has established itself over 29 years as a leading exponent of music for piano and strings. They have a busy schedule in Europe, North America and have recently toured China. Well-known for commissioning new music they have recorded over 30 critically acclaimed CDs. Mozart's first piano quartet in his favourite key is both passionate and joyful. The Ensemble will give the first performance of the Huw Watkins quartet in the summer of 2012; Huw writes "I hope to come up with something fresh that treats the group in unexpected ways". The concert ends with one of Elgar's most important chamber compositions, written at about the same time as the cello concerto, with a similar nostalgic feel to it, and a particularly beautiful slow movement.


Newer Music Triumphs at the King’s Hall Ilkley

This was a concert that got better as it progressed. They began with Mozart’s G minor Piano Quartet, a work of considerable drama and intensity, but their approach did not reflect this. It was surprisingly uninvolving, an earthbound reading with limited dynamic range and insufficiently expressive phrasing, the most responsive playing coming from the cellist. Furthermore the balance was poor, the strings sometimes overwhelmed by the piano. All this was puzzling given the superb performance that came after the interval.

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Things warmed up considerably in the next item, Huw Watkins’ brief one-movement Piano Quartet heard for the first time last year in London. This is a useful addition to the chamber music repertoire, which lacks the kind of shorter pieces that orchestras, with access to overtures and so on, can play to add variety to their programmes. The performance here was immediately engaging; it was as if the challenge of the new had awoken their musical antennae. The players relished the many fascinating instrumental colours that the composer had imagined and projected its quirky spirit very effectively. Not an easy piece to take in at a first hearing maybe (few are) but one that is well worth persevering with.

Elgar’s Piano Quintet is a big piece in every way, grandly conceived and deeply emotional; this performance gave it full value. The atmospheric opening was hauntingly played and the assertive material that follows had splendid energy with the serenade-like contrasting ideas elegantly expressed. There was tremendous attack in the final powerful climax, the expansive piano writing never allowed to obscure the string parts.

Expressive viola playing led us into the rhapsodic slow movement; glorious music that is sometimes introverted and other times ardent and both qualities were fully brought out in this well sustained performance. The main material of the finale is confident and assertive sometimes giving way to self-doubt and the performance caught this ambivalence well, ending with an electrifying adrenaline rush to bring the concert to an exciting close.

Geoffrey Kinder

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Recommended Recordings



Hyperion have one of the best recordings of both Mozart Piano Quartets, with Paul Lewis (piano) and the Leopold String Trio. The recording quality is up to Hyperion’s usual excellent standard, and the disc is made more attractive by being included in the label’s 30th. Anniversary Edition at mid-price-CDA 30011.

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Huw Williams

As far as I know there is no commercial recording of this work at the present time.


Piers Lane (piano) and the Goldner String Quartet give an excellent, well recorded performance, coupled with the Elgar String Quartet on Hyperion CDA 67857 (full-price). At lower mid-price there is an equally attractive recording with Peter Donahoe (piano) and the Maggini Quartet on Naxos 8.553737. The coupling is again the Elgar Quartet. The Schubert Ensemble have a very good, fairly recent, version, with interesting couplings of 7 Elgar Songs and 3 Movements for Piano Trio. The recording quality is good on Champs Hill Records CHRCD027 (full-price).

Raymond Waud.

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