25 March 2012
Piano Quintet Series Concert VIII
Ottorino Respighi – Piano Quintet in F minor (1902)
Bela Bartok – Piano Quintet in C Major (1904)
Andante – Allegro molto
Ottorino Respighi – Piano Quintet in F minor
The eclectic mix of Piano Quintets drew this author to this concert despite it being in close proximity on the calendar to the due date to his (as of then yet unfinished) set of 6 lab reports. Respighi (famed for Pines of Rome – see previous post) and Bartok (known for his Concerto for Strings, as well as Viola and Violin Concertos) seldom come first to mind when Piano Quintets are discussed, especially when compared to staples e.g. Brahms, Schumann, Dvorak.
(Note: Please forgive the author if mistakes were made – this was his first impression of both pieces)
Opening with a string tutti, Respighi minces no words in entering the first theme, made all the more fiery by the sheer composition of the Take Five. Tightly following the wave of sound is the pianoforte, threading in the next theme. The theme returns in the middle, perhaps slightly subdued, before the ~10 minute long interplay. A short, sweet, afterthought of a second movement gave way to a lively Vivaccisimo helmed by an undulating piano line. Foo Say Ming’s trademark detache and exuberant character was infectious, and a short harkening back to the slow movement did little to break the momentum leading up to a highly strung finish.
The distilled intensity and unerring holding of the melodic lines did Respighi’s lyricism more than justice, combined with a widely varied dynamic range and tonal palette. Dialogue was almost candid (which may not be untrue to real life), with Lim Yan’s gentlemanly cues and the near-electric eye contact among the strings.
Bela Bartok – Piano Quintet in C Major
Despite being described (anecdotally) as “almost like a concerto”, presumably in difficulty and relentlessness (of the Violin 1 part), the resultant full-bodied high notes and general unwavering endurance imbued the late romanticism of Bartok with contained fervour that drove it through it’s 40 minute course. Bartok’s signature style did not feature prominently in this rather Romantic work, with the only hint of what was to follow in the strained harmonic relationship between C Major and F# Minor. The expansive first movement, kitchsy waltz-march schizo-scherzo, tense adagio, and relentlessly labourious-but-boisterous finale was pleasantly balanced with (or in fact weighted towards) familiar consonance towards which dissonance resolved. Despite signs of tiring in the (almost 9-minute long) last movement, the quintet redoubled their efforts towards the final resounding restatement in a triumphant C Major chord.
(Note: the C-F# relationship brought to mind Petrushka, which has CM-F#M chords played simultaneously)
From the moment pianist Lim Yan strode onstage with two scordatura-ed violins (played during the slow 3rdmovement) till the final chords, Bartok did not, indeed, fail to impress.
The quintet intensely adhered to an ensemble born of years of collaboration and dedication to chamber music and classical music in general. An individually stellar group, Take Five put in far more than what was expected, and reaped the golden aural rewards for their physical, temporal and emotional input.
Photographs Courtesy of Andrew Bi Qiang
P.S. I had to consult the recordings extensively to write the descriptive parts of this little article. They are shown below. It is unfortunate that these recordings one of the only (if not the only) ones available to the public.