Review: Ipswich Chamber Music Society, Dante Quartet/Wallfisch, February 18

A concert offering one of the pinnacles of chamber music, along with the ever-popular Haydn and our local but world-conquering Britten, deservedly attracted a large audience to Ipswich School.

The Dante quartet began with Haydn’s op 64 no 5, the Lark nickname derived from the soaring first violin melody following the earthbound opening bars although this particular lark seemed a little less energetic than some, riding the thermals rather than surging upwards. The playing was affectionate and accurate yet the spirit of Haydn did not fully shine through.

Britten’s first quartet is an inventive and original piece, sometimes showy but at others profoundly moving. The remote stillness of the opening was splendidly captured and the hectic contrasting sections were all the more effective for that. The deeply felt slow movement was given a splendid reading, the rich sonorities and teasing harmonies finely balanced. The finale gives good opportunities for the viola and Rachel Roberts rose to them admirably.

So to the Schubert Quintet, perhaps the most perfect gem of that annus mirabilis.

What made the performance so special was the way the miraculous inner workings of the piece were so clearly opened up, both orally and visually. Counter- subjects were clear and comprehensible, Giles Francis’ semiquaver runs in the first movement sparkled cleanly and Bernard Gregor-Smith’s lovely tone ushered the lilting melodies on their way. The slow movement was magical, Krysia Osostowicz and Raphael Wallfisch securing the structure at top and bottom with their wonderfully balanced pizzicato chords and all players energetically contributing to the turbulent central section.

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The scherzo was full of hunting calls and rustic energy and then – that heart-stopping shift to D flat as composer (and audience?) come face to face with mortality. The effect was, as always, profound. The performers struck just the right balance between gaiety and wistfulness in the finale and the enigmatic final bar crowned an immensely enjoyable and satisfying performance.

Gareth Jones

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