Zürcher Klavierquintett
Dvořák / Schumann

Aula, Zurich University, 2022-04-13

0.5-star rating

2022-04-29 — Original posting


Zürcher Klavierquintett @ Aula, Zurich University, 2022-03-24
Zürcher Klavierquintett @ Aula, Zurich University, 2022-03-24 (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved)

Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeAula der Universität, Zurich, 2022-04-13 19:30h
Series / TitleChamber Music Evening: “Die Klassiker der Romantik”
OrganizerMusical Discovery / Musik an der ETH und UZH
SponsorStiftung STAB
Reviews from related eventsConcerts in this venue
Concerts in the Series “Musik an der ETH und UZH”

The Artists: Zürcher Klavierquintett

Once or twice a year, Musical Discovery / Musik an der ETH und UZH is offering chamber music events, or concerts with small orchestras or vocal ensembles. This concert in Zurich University’s main convention hall (Aula) was one of these, featuring a piano quintet. The ensemble, the “Zürcher Klavierquintett” (Zurich Piano Quintet) is sometimes also referred to as “Zürcher Quintett” (Zurich Quintet). It featured the following artists:

My reviews are usually long enough. So, for once, let me skip the excerpts from the artist’s biographies. You find all that information through the links in the above list.


Program

The program for this concert featured two chamber music works from the 19th century. Both are cornerstones of the chamber music repertoire:


Concert & Review

Dvořák: Piano Quintet No.2 in A major, op.81, B.155

Composer & Work

Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904) wrote his Piano Quintet No.2 in A major, op.81, B.155, in 1887; the composition premiered in 1888. There are four movements:

  1. Allegro, ma non tanto
  2. Dumka: Andante con moto — Un pochettino più mosso — Tempo I — Vivace (quasi l’istesso Tempo) — Tempo I
  3. Scherzo (Furiant): Molto vivace
  4. Finale: Allegro

My Blog includes reviews of earlier concert performances of this composition.

The Performance

To me, concerts of course aren’t just the music as such. The latter I can also get by listening to recordings. Rather, the key element in concerts is in watching / witnessing the music as it is being (re-)created. In other words: watching the musicians, their interaction among themselves, their (usually hidden) interaction with the audience. And, more than anything else, watching the musicians expressing themselves through the music, making it come to life. Like digging it out from the composer’s mind through the abstract notation…

Hierarchies / Control

Some observations right at the onset. In chamber music, even just the physical arrangement of the artists can be quite telling. With string quartets, there are typically the option of an “open” arrangement (facing / “talking to” with the audience). The alternative is a “closed”, semi-circular setting. Here, the first violinist, Tanja Sonc, appeared to take the clear lead. She was facing the other string players, arranged around her in a quarter-circle.

However, the pianist (Yulia Miloslavskaya) was of course adding complexity to the setup. Whether she was just coordinating with the strings, or whether she was holding an active lead, she needed to be able to have direct eye contact with Tanja Sonc, as well as with the cellist, Anna Tyka Nyffenegger. The second violinist, Philipp Wollheim, had no chance of observing the pianist. Ribal Molaeb at the viola may have been able to follow the pianist’s gestures through peripheral vision. Where the piano was leading / controlling, Tanja Sonc must have acted as relay towards the middle string voices.

I. Allegro, ma non tanto

Dvořák knew how to capture the listener’s ear! Into the gentle, discreet piano accompaniment, the cello introduces the theme with its warm, intensely singing tone. It may have been a little more than p, espressivo. However, certainly, it drew the focus of the audience. I noted that in the repeat of the exposition, the cellist played noticeably softer, more retained. After a few bars, though, the other string instruments join in. The initial, elegiac tone changes to highly expressive, full of verve and emphasis. This seemed to fit the temperament, the character of these musicians really well!

The ensemble proved very harmonious, excellent in the acoustic balance, and highly coherent through Dvořák’s “slavonic” rubato. If the first violin often dominated the string sound, that’s fully the composer’s intent. The other three string instruments certainly retained their presence. After [C], the viola solo exhibited the instruments warm, well-rounded sonority. At the same time, it also appeared as the perfect “color transition” between the violins and the full-bodied sound of the cello. The visual separation may have contributed to the impression, that occasionally, the first violin didn’t always mix / integrate well with the sound of the other instruments. The instrument sounded slightly (more) poignant, which also revealed a vibrato that felt strong enough. However, it certainly suited the character of this music.
★★★★

II. Dumka: Andante con moto — Un pochettino più mosso — Tempo I —

In the Dumka, it’s clearly the piano that holds the lead function. I noted Yulia Miloslavskaya’s careful articulation, the well-measured agogics—and her flawless technique. Throughout the concert, she proved highly attentive and cooperative with the string quartet. She always kept the volume well-adapted, rarely ever appeared too dominant. And she maintained a calm flow, while at the same time of course supporting the swaying Dumka rhythm.

As I was following the score, I noted that the piano’s tenuto in bar 10 appeared as a trill. Actually, this not only makes sense (the piano isn’t very good at holding a tone!), but it also is in agreement with the second (full) instance of the theme at the end of the movement.

The transition to the Un pochettino più mosso was excellent, seamless—almost unnoticeable. I had just one quibble (not specific to any musician). I felt that the theme—albeit very atmospheric—might have been more intimate, more retained? In this movement, I also felt that the string solos were almost too prominent. The clarity in the acoustics would also have allowed for a more “integrated” approach.

Vivace (quasi l’istesso Tempo) — Tempo IUn pochettino più mosso — Meno mosso. Tempo I

I very much liked the verve, the drive, the momentum in the Vivace. This includes the sudden change to the elegiac espressivo in the subsequent Tempo I. To me, the highlight in cooperative ensemble playing was in the Un pochettino più mosso. Relative to the notation in the score, the piano may have felt a little dominant in the final segment (Meno mosso, Tempo I), relative to the strings. However, softer playing is hardly doable on a modern grand piano.
★★★½

III. Scherzo (Furiant): Molto vivace — Poco tranquillo — Tempo I

Excellent coordination in the Furiant, unanimous playing, joyful, exuberant. One could easily picture a folk dance group whirling in rounds! The middle part (Poco tranquillo) formed a very atmospheric contrast.
★★★★½

IV. Finale: Allegro

An admirable performance! Highest musicality, technical mastership with all artists, virtuosic. Dvořák assigned a clear lead function to the piano. And Yulia Miloslavskaya filled that masterfully. She was highly attentive and always cooperative, never pulling ahead, let alone “driving the others forward with a whip”.
★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★

Schumann: Piano Quintet in E♭ major, op.44

Composer & Work

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) wrote his Piano Quintet in E♭ major, op.44 in 1842. It’s a key work, not only within Robert Schumann’s chamber music oeuvre, but in the romantic chamber music repertoire altogether. My Blog includes reviews of earlier concert performances of this composition. Not surprisingly, it is the chamber music work that I have reviewed the most over the past 8 years. Schumann’s op.44 features the following four movements:

  1. Allegro brillante
  2. In Modo d’una Marcia. Un poco largamente – Agitato
  3. Scherzo: Molto vivace – Trio I & II
  4. Allegro, ma non troppo

A few years ago, I have also briefly reviewed two CD recordings of Schumann’s op.44.

The Performance

I. Allegro brillante

Even more than in Dvořák’s op.81: this energy, the verve, the momentum! Brilliant music, of course. The strings performed the theme with broad portato streaks, the sonority was excellent. I noted that the mellow sound of the viola made transitions to and from the cello (in the contrasting, lyrical second theme) seamless, almost unnoticeable. The two instruments often sounded like one. As already in the Dvořák piece, I was pleased to note that the ensemble observed all repeat signs.

And here again, the piano part was excellent throughout. If it often sounded dominant, that’s in Schumann’s composition, which favors the piano. Also, in the soundscape, the second violin often felt rather inconspicuous, somewhat underrepresented. That again is not the artist’s fault, nor that of the instrument.
★★★★

II. In Modo d’una Marcia. Un poco largamente – Agitato

Even though the Marcia does not seem overly complex, a successful performance relies upon exact timing, utmost attention and excellent coordination. And excellent is was! A joy to watch Yulia Miloslavskaya observe (control?) the others, listening with constant alertness.

The Agitato segment is maybe the one part where I felt that a lighter, period instrument with its more colorful sound would have had the edge over the Steinway grand. What I definitely liked here was the expressive, rough / unpolished tone of the viola in the marcato solo after the repeated segment. Often, the music almost seemed to burst from emotion / expression.
★★★★

III. Scherzo: Molto vivace – Trio I & II

In the Scherzo, Schumann’s piano part is not overly complex. However, it is highly effective, virtuosic, brilliant. So was Yulia Miloslavskaya’s performance. Masterful, but never mere show. And this instant transition from the first Trio back to the Scherzo (initiated by the second violin): stunning! The second Trio is the most virtuosic part of the movement, especially on the piano: full of drive, fire and tension. Excellent in ensemble balance and sonority.
★★★★½

IV. Allegro, ma non troppo

And once more, the piano was in control. That’s not a surprise with this composer! One could argue that occasionally, especially in the fugato part, the first violin was rather poignant. However, that’s clearly a consequence of its highly exposed part. Overall, it was definitely an excellent, enthralling performance of this masterpiece!
★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

Acknowledgement

The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Nina Orotchko (Musical Discovery) for the invitation to this recital.


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