Friday 27 October 2023

Piatti Quartet launches its Rush Hour Lates at Kings Place with Dvorak and Schubert

Piatti Quartet at Kings Place
Piatti Quartet at Kings Place (Photo: Piatti Quartet)

The Piatti Quartet (Michael Trainor, Emily Holland, Miguel Sobrinho, Jessie Ann Richardson) is the new quartet in residence at Kings Place and they launched their series of Rush House Late concerts on Wednesday 25 October 2023 with a programme of Schubert's Quartetsatz and Dvorak's String Quartet in F, Op. 96 'American' and future concerts in the series will explore further late Dvorak quartets.

Schubert wrote his Quartetsatz in 1820, it is effectively the sole example of his quartet writing between his early works, written before 1817, and his late masterpieces in the genre written a few years later. The quartet exists as a single movement, plus a few bars of an Andante. Like the Unfinished Symphony of 1822, and quite a lot of other works, Schubert seems to have simply broken off writing it. The single movement is a powerful, confident piece of writing though you notice that Schubert was still influenced by earlier quartet writing with its solo violin plus accompaniment style.

The movement began in restlessness and tense excitement, with the lovely violin melody finally emerging with Trainor's singing line. But there was a fierceness to the quartet's approach too, this wasn't cosy and relaxed for all the incidental beauties, and the sense of restless drama grew in the development and never retreated as the opening material returned.

Dvorak's American sojourn (from 1893 to 1895) forms an important way-marker in his compositional career, he wrote his final symphony in America and when he returned to Europe his output included no further symphonies just the Cello Concerto and symphonic poems along with four string quartets and a string quintet. From around 1889 and his Symphony No. 8, Dvorak's style, particularly his orchestration and handling of instrumental lines had developed, so that whatever the Americana that we might detect in String Quartet in F, there is a rich complexity to the writing which is rewarding for listeners and players alike. The first performance of the work was a private one, in Spillville, Iowa, where Dvorak was holidaying with the composer being joined in the performance by his Czech-American secretary and family. 

The first movement began by showcasing Miguel Sobrinho's mellow viola tone, but then all was speed and excitement with a movement full of contrasts between accents and lyricism, and a lovely moment of calm when the second subject appeared. During the development with its denser writing, intensity and drama increased, but there were moments of sweetness and all ended in real excitement. The slow movement began with Trainor's singing violin answered by Richardson's cello, with strong colours from the other players. Despite the intensity of emotion here, the players spun the lines out in a lovely way. The scherzo contrasted the robust opening section with its sense of infectious joy with the more eerie trio, though always the players brought drama to the music, and the repeats had a lovely sense of never being quite the same. The rondo finale began with tight rhythmic excitement, along with a feeling of the players engagement with and enjoyment of the music. There was a deftness and clarity to the quartet's handing of the intricate detail of the instrumental writing, but enlivened with real emotion and joy. The ending with its vigorous sense of strenuous energy reminded you of the energy and enjoyment that Dvorak and his friends must have found in that first performance.

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