wed 21/02/2024

Grosvenor, Doric Quartet, Milton Court review - cohesion or collision? | reviews, news & interviews

Grosvenor, Doric Quartet, Milton Court review - cohesion or collision?

Grosvenor, Doric Quartet, Milton Court review - cohesion or collision?

Contrasting styles don't always cohere in this intriguing mix

Grosvenor: a luminous, consistent toneDoric Quartet by George Garnier

Expectations ran high for this final concert in Benjamin Grosvenor’s Barbican/Milton Court series, especially after the magic he and the Doric Quartet wrought in their February performance.

Last night’s effort did not produce quite such inspiring results, mainly due to a slightly odd impression that pianist and some of the quartet were coming to the music from radically different directions that did not always blend.

The Dorics opened with Janáček’s first string quartet, "The Kreutzer Sonata", modelled on Tolstoy’s short story of adulterous love and murder – music that still sounds startlingly original nearly a century after its creation. Here the ensemble’s feel for colour and atmosphere really came into its own. They created a feverish, febrile soundscape in which eloquence is shattered by violence and passion by fragmentation: musical storytelling distilled into its very best, with exclamations of fury, whispers of hope and seething eruptions. I reckon Tolstoy would have been pleased.

In Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2, though, the quartet plus double bassist Laurène Durantel take on the role of Chopin’s unsatisfying orchestra, which serves largely to weave a halo of sound around the star pianist. Benjamin Grosvenor’s luminous, consistent piano tone, dazzling clarity and direct, natural lyricism suit the piece to perfection, but now and then one couldn’t help longing for the Berlin Philharmonic to partner him.

The Doric Quartet (pictured right) seems to have an admirable wish to differentiate between eras of music and match its approach to the date of composition; but it depends how it’s done. While it paid dividends in the Janáček, sending the Chopin of 1829-30 down into “early music” wispy tone and mannered, tailed-off phrasing (how did this trope ever take hold? why do musicians insist on using it even when it’s counter-intuitive to the melodic line?) is unlikely to work if the soloist is a full-blooded, golden-age romantic with bags of attitude, playing a hefty modern Steinway. Instead of being lost in the joint wonders of the music – which was the extraordinary thing that happened last time, transcending all such divisions – on this occasion the mismatch of styles never seemed to settle down.

Dvorák’s Piano Quintet No 2 is one of the most effervescent, ebullient and lyrical of all chamber works, but somehow the composer’s elegiac contrasts of smiles and tears never wholly came into focus. There was enormous energy in evidence, yet a truly powerful, rich, singing tone from the violins was sorely missed, along with a sense that the articulations of melody were actually able to reach agreement between the players. John Myerscough’s intelligent, sensitive cello playing was a treat, though, really speaking as well as singing – the cello is in any case the star of this work. Grosvenor was an exemplary chamber music partner, his playing limpid and lively, and he and Myerscough, aided and abetted by Hélène Clément’s sunlit viola playing, made this about 70 per cent satisfying. 

Most of us were a bit preoccupied by the European elections at the time and to explain the differences of approach on stage one might try casting each performer as a politician in parallel. Imagine Keir Starmer on the piano, solid, eloquent and clear; Dominic Grieve on the cello, singing a strong yet different song; Jo Swinson on viola, making every note count if and when she gets the chance; Diane Abbott on second violin, using a lot of oomph but never escaping second place; and finally, on first violin, Jeremy Corbyn, in the leader's chair but steadfastly refusing to phrase in agreement. Hmm. 


Grosvenor was an exemplary chamber music partner, his playing limpid and lively


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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This reviewer sounds like she wants to air a political opinion rather than review the concert! Quite a lot of tosh here regarding string sound coherence since the quartet are both praised in the Janacek and then rather clumsily compared to political figures. I am a professional pianist and found the performance effervescent, full of artistry and emotion worthy of high praise. The reviewer contradicts herself and would rather unfairly pick holes in the quartet's violinists than pick a better metaphor. Please do better Arts Desk...

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