Menahem Pressler unassumingly took to the Wigmore Hall stage, greeted with rapturous applause. Having paused only for a quick glance at his illustrious colleagues, he began a reading of Mozart’s G minor piano quartet that was immediately refined yet confidently shaped. The opening movement was one of sensitivity, simplicity of line and warm, almost organic growth. The second movement formed the emotional core of the work as it should, and all four players had it positively palpitating with energy that spoke of feelings barely held in check. A somewhat discreet introduction from the keyboard was heightened by the cello before being given added depth by the remaining strings. By contrast the concluding Rondo movement was played with deft sparkle and lightness of touch, which allowed the key change near the movement’s conclusion to register its dark undercurrent fully.
Turina’s seldom-played A minor piano quartet is definitely a work that deserves to be more frequently heard, as this no holds barred performance readily demonstrated. The opening Lento was replete with a smoky Spanish tang, exuberant with the frisson of a matador going breathlessly into a fight. In this way the music laid out an atmospheric narrative. Particularly gripping were the unison strings against heard against the piano, then a brief cello solo backdropped by the trio, which preceded a punchy and emphatic ending. Greater subtlety of textures filled the second movement, which was emphasised by the music’s seemingly mercurial changes of direction, mood and temperament. There was no doubting the players’ ability to throw it all off with beguiling ease. The last movement might have begun where the first one had finished; replete with solo passions and superbly articulated lines, the various threads were gathered together in a thrilling conclusion.
The second half was devoted to Schumann’s E flat piano quartet. If the opening movement was initially tentative and subdued as Schumann would have wished for, the music soon bloomed and showed unity of purpose and understanding on the part of all concerned. The second movement was nimble and crisp, carefully played yet never too much so as to become too studied a performance. A sense of luminosity also marked out the third movement, and the transitions between the music’s sections were dexterously handled. The final movement found the music’s various lines of thought masterfully presented, contrasted, gathered and concluded with abandon by four instrumentalists playing as obviously for their own enjoyment as that of their audience.
The encore was a Schumann Albumblatt – dedicated from the stage by Pressler to a dear friend in the hall – delicately perfumed yet stirring at the same time. Interpretively the four were so on the button in terms of style and nuance that I hardly wanted the music to end. It will be a very long time indeed before I hear a better piano quartet play in concert.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.