Reverence may be required in a concert entitled Stabat Mater, but Wednesday evening at the Wigmore Hall suffered from an overdose.
Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga’s Third String Quartet is not the world’s greatest work, but I could have done with a little more fire than was on display.
The four members of the King’s Consort were a tad tentative and thinly toned in the Menuetto, while the final Presto agitato needed greater virtuosity from each individual player to enliven it.
Only in the pastoral second movement, which boasts a startlingly dramatic invasion of stormy tremolos, did a dynamic and spontaneous sound emerge from the platform. Elsewhere, both intonation and balance were inconsistent, and I noticed little musical conversation or chemistry between players – a requisite in chamber music.
The (now expanded) band coped much more successfully with Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos, providing especially transparent texture in the two accompagnatos and pushing forward with malleable tempi under the direction of Robert King. The cantata works well because it is so compact and pithy: in its brief alternation of recitative and aria, momentum is sustained and tension built. Yet here it did not ignite.
The problem for me was the soprano of Carolyn Sampson. Her sultry, gospel-styled breathiness was misplaced, while Haydn’s frequent ventures into the mezzo register found little projection in the basement of her voice. When not covered by the zealous ensemble playing, there was much to admire, such as the woman’s emotive delivery or, musically, her hypnotic, almost mournful vibrato in the climactic Presto. But it was not enough.
And even an improved Sampson could not make a strong case for Boccherini’s overlong Stabat Mater. There is much effective scoring and juxtaposition here, with the cello and double bass seeming to evoke a strumming guitar in the Virgo virginum praeclara and the band providing gently lilting accompaniment to the concluding Amens. But the whole is undramatic and melodically unmemorable, and only in the final verses did this performance begin to move.