Leonkoro Quartet, Pump Rooms, Leamington
THE RETURN of chamber music to the Pump Rooms usually heralds the onset of cold, darker nights and the appearance on the not-so-distant horizon of Christmas. With plenty of shirtsleeves and not a coat to be seen stuffed under the seats, this evening had an unexpected warmth.
And so it was in the programme too with the warm romanticism of Schubert being just as welcome as the spiky, storm-ridden music elsewhere. Perhaps the programmers have access to better forecasts than the rest of us.
Schubert’s G minor quartet got the season started in the impressive hands of the Leonkoro Quartet. Offering sumptuous harmonies and rich textures throughout, there was wonderful scope for everything from light-as-confectionary moments to the bombast and emotional outpourings Schubert is known for – all handled perfectly by this fine quartet.
Janacek’s restless String Quartet no 1 could hardly have made a more marked contrast. Like the smouldering and then erupting passions contained in the book The Kreutzer Sonata on which it is based, this is a work which explores fractured times and hefty contrasts.
The intensity of the piece demands a hugely varied set of playing effects from the quartet, There are moments of brittle delicacy cast aside by shattering volume, tentative moves toward harmony shoved out of the way by brutal interventions, sections where the instruments are pushed to produce squeezed, uncomfortable tones.
At times it seems the quartet is working as four individuals suggesting directions which never find favour with all. To create such a fractured impression, though, requires a quartet playing with deep understanding and trust, something the Leonkoro have in abundance on this showing.
Benefiting from stint on the Radio Three New Generation Artist scheme, the quartet have, in their comparatively short history, already garnered high praise, a clutch of awards and a reputation for excellence in sound.
And the quality of that playing was joyously on show in the closing Brahms Quartet in C minor, the final two movements of which were as good is it gets.
The slower Allegrettp is a fabulous opportunity to set an incessant, urgent ground rhythm and then construct a marvellous architecture of interlocking lines and phrases over it. Somehow the quartet managed to bring out an almost sinister tone to the movement before unleashing the full sweeping sound of the final Allegro. Sometimes threatening, sometimes resolved – like the weather.