A grey, drizzly day on Holywell St but the welcome from the stalwarts manning and womanning the ticketing and seating arrangements at the Holywell Music Room was as cheery as ever. The programme was an interesting one from the Adderbury Ensemble - an early work from Gabriel Fauré and Mozart's Piano Quintet in E flat major [for piano and wind] that here was offered in a transcription for piano and string trio which the ever-excellent programme notes by Mike Wheeler suggested was first played in this form during Mozart's lifetime.
First the Mozart, and the omens (initially inspected in the form of grounds at the bottom of a coffee cup in the King's Arms next door) were favourable since my musical acquaintance who had inveighed against 'twiddly pom' music (described as a rather superficial exercise of digital dexterity; tinkly, prissy and unadventurous) the previous week assured me that it would be conspicuous by its absence this week. And so it proved.
I could not, hand on heart, deny that on the whole I prefer the better-known scoring for piano and four-strong wind band that offers the piquancy of contrast in tone and pitch from clarinet, oboe, horn and bassoon, but this takes nothing away from pianist Viv McLean and the string trio. In this work the piano tends to take the lead with the strings confined to some extent to a subsidiary role as was common in the times before Haydn's middle chamber period. This is especially marked in the 'larghetto' in which Mozart's ability to turn on a sixpence from smiling melody to something wistful if not sombre was demonstrated yet again. There was a moment of heightened intensity as Mr McLean, whose style is to arch his body forward over the keys while looking sideways and fixedly towards his colleagues, played repeatedly the same half-dozen notes, each time with just a little more quiet emphasis; classic Mozart, and beautifully done by the pianist. In the 'rondo', the development of the theme was handed dexterously in succession from violin to viola and on to the cello.
Fauré's Piano Quartet is a more sinewy piece altogether. It was composed at a time of great emotional turmoil for the composer - his fiancée had shown him the door, to his bitter chagrin - and I think in the 'adagio' there are indications of this, though of course direct autobiographical attribution in the arts can be erroneous. The 'scherzo' is notable for its rippling, pointilliste rhythms and our quartet maintained a quicksilver approach, with cellist Jane Fenton tapping out the cadence with one foot. In the 'adagio' an air of melancholy prevails, with Mr McLean busy with the left hand at the lower end of the register before turning to ascending melodic fragments. Then in the finale, there was a delicious moment where he played with full sostenuto pedal a chord that the players allowed to float on the air, apparently endlessly.