Given that the orchestration of Chopin’s F-minor Piano Concerto was a team effort, there is probably no musical heresy involved in the performance of the version for piano and string quartet, published in the same year and attributed to Paul Waldersee. Indeed, Pavel Kolesnikov and the Hermès quartet proved, on Sunday evening, what a superior version this is. The original orchestration adds so little to the piano writing (Berlioz referred to it as ‘cold and almost useless’), whereas the reduced, string accompaniment turns the work into a salon piece of utmost charm.
The concerto is an early work, and the style of the opening piano entry reminds us that Beethoven died only three years before its conception. Kolesnikov’s insouciant and almost understated playing throughout was cleverly judged, providing the delicately embroidered detail on the translucent yet supportive backing supplied by the quartet. There were changes in mood, certainly – some maestoso playing in the opening movement, the signature waltz and Polonaise in the final movement – but the performers kept everything in balance with supreme communication and lightness of touch. The crowning glory was the delicate intimacy of the second movement: the comparison between the opening legato chord-changes under a gently shimmering piano passage and their reverse, later on in the movement, was subtly emphasised; although the rubato pullings-up in tempo were present, they did not follow the Rubinsteinian model that might be appropriate in Chopin’s later works, but were small, tenderly poised gestures. The busy final-movement coda, introduced only by a short passage for the viola, allowed the piece to finish with a suitably polite display of indoor fireworks.
If the Chopin concerto arrangement is a dainty lace handkerchief, Chausson’s Opus 21 Concert in D is a large coloured tapestry. The six players (Kolesnikov and the quartet were joined by the violinist Elīna Buksha) punched well above their weight to perform a complex, changeful, composition that left the listener feeling as though an orchestra had been in the room. The work’s four movements are of very different character, and become more ‘modern’ as the work progresses – moving from the lush romantic lyricism of the first movement, through the deceptively simple Sicilienne of the second to a sombre Grave outlined through a grimly minimalistic idée fixe first heard in the piano and taken up by the other instruments; the final movement is dominated by a disturbingly syncopated minor-key melody, that is finally resolved in a Liebestod-like set of rising repetitions. Sorabji called the piece a concerto grosso, but this doesn’t really do it justice. Certainly the violin and piano feature as solo instruments, but the quartet is much more than a supportive ripieno; melodic and harmonic material is thrown around between all of the players (with, for example, the quartet finishing a phrase begun by the piano), and there are enjoyable unexpected combinations: all three violins resolving a chord, or the brief but exquisite cello solo in the Sicilienne.
Once again, perfect communication between the players was to the fore, such that the mercuriality of the piece came to life – the textures and timbres changing to create a seamless garment. Here, beefier playing was allowed, and the strings added weight to their bowing to produce some gloriously rich sonorities. Buksha’s solo playing was exemplary, whether in the lyricism of the opening movement, the sunny placidity of the second movement, or in the intense gloominess of the wailing held notes of the third. Kolesnikov was in his element, moving, with his innate understanding of style, from calm rippling accompaniment to sudden bursts of Hammerklavier in the blink of an eye.