Concert review

Artisti con Brio (String Quintet)

Monday 24th February 2020

For the first time in its 76 year history Penrith Music Club presented a recital of string quintets, played with panache and impressive musicality by Artisti con Brio, a chamber group of five highly talented young string players from five European countries.

Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Mozart all found different ways of coping with  the addition of a second viola to the string quartet and it was clear from the first bars of Mendelssohn’s Quintet in B flat op.87 how he relished the extra sonority of the ensemble. The surging opening as the first violin strived to rise above the manic tremolo accompaniment was exhilarating, the subsequent more reflective passages basked in sensuous sotto voce colours. By contrast the second movement recalled Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream  music – delicately-stepping melodies over sparse pizzicato accompaniment, played with poise. The slow movement returned to lush textures and the energetic finale displayed virtuosic playing from all, especially first violinist Joana Ly.

Beethoven has his 250th birthday this year – a good reason for presenting his one and only string quintet written in 1801 but rather unfairly neglected. This brought another fine performance – the first two movements both expansive, the Scherzo precise, the Trio playful and the finale driven by combustible outbursts. Beethoven’s sense of humour was well caught in the two surprise minuet interludes by Cara Laskaris, who had now taken over as first violin.

Mozart’s Quintet in G minor K.516 made the ideal conclusion to the concert. His sense of restraint led him to deploy the five parts economically. Thus the first theme is played by the upper three instruments and continued by the lower three, allowing welcome variations in texture. Prominence is often given to first violin and first viola, who always rose to the occasion. The brisk tempo of the first movement carried the music forward but still made space for refined expression; the Menuetto and Trio, pensive and positive and the Adagio, muted and distant – all were played with immaculate style. The slow  introduction to the finale retained the heartfelt sombre mood; the Allegro sparkled throughout – an uplifting end to an exceptional concert.

John Upson

Updated on 25th April 2020
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