One for the Quintessential
Ones to Watch Series:
Armida Quartet and Lorenzo Soulès
28 Oct 2014 . Tue
Conservatory Concert Hall
Messiaen: Le merle bleu
Smetana: String Quartet No. 1 in E minor
Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44
Martin Funda . Violin
Johanna Staemmler . Violin
Teresa Schwamm . Viola
Peter Phillip Staemmler . Cello
Lorenzo Soulès . Piano
(Preamble: A musical joke goes along these lines: the string quartet is made up of a good violinist, a bad violinist, an ex-violinist, and the only sane member of the team.)
In a heavily star- and award-studded compilation of Geneva International Competition Laureates, the featured string quartet promptly smashed the above scherzo into proverbial smithereens.
Whetting the palate with works from giants of their respective era, Soulès’ disarmingly unimposing manner dissolved into a bold exploration of the era covering the indescribable agreeableness of Schumann to the discordantly feral (and honest) Messaien. The Schumann was one of the most demanding pieces I’ve heard, voicing wise, suite and all. Messaien, on the other hand, opened up a soundscape-sandbox filled with time and tone colours. Despite some confusion regarding the page turner, it was definitely more hit than miss, and YST’s polished acoustics lent much weight to the expert touches of the pianist of the night.
Here, I would risk the audacity to insert a personal anecdote – we once had the honour of having a visiting quartet (I believe the Australian String Quartet) coach NUSSO for Miniatures (NUSSO’s chamber concert) in 2009. One quotable quote goes that “the 2nd violin and viola, sitting a metre or so further from the audience, have to play that much more to make up for it.”
The dear “inner strings” of Armida certainly had no qualms grabbing the attention of the audience, with the (once again) disarmingly waifish Schwamm launching into Smetana’s “viola concerto for quartet”. Not ones to shy away from conventionally “ugly” or “unromatic” sounds and tones, Armida brought growls, non-vib, flautando, and other possibly “shocking” sonic ideas into stark detail – yet in unison, the whole seemed sensible, even beautiful. In the age-old and neverending battle of how something “should sound” and how something “can sound”, Armida swiftly gained the upper hand on this field with a wholly interesting and complacency-battering rendition of the solid popular (and intensely personal) favourite that was Smetana’s First String Quartet.
Enter the full-cast act featuring a work from a time when the piano quintet was reaching (or at) its peak. Nothing much is left to be said from a crowd pleaser that stands out from many other chamber crowd pleasers, including no smaller names such as Dvořák, Brahms, Bartók, Resphigi and the likes. A delicious start, a balancing act in the “slow” movement that kept apparent calm as the open sea from afar, and a rousingly solid Romantic-formulaic finale.
Dessert was the Furiant romp from Dvořák’s 2nd Piano Quintet.
Singapore’s very own Take Five used to run a series of piano quintet performances.
Also, many thanks to Youtube and the ever-ardent uploaders of yesteryears’ (and to-morrows’) music.