Milton Court was impressively full for the second of two recitals from Benjamin Grosvenor, the Doric Quartet and Laurène Durantel presenting Chopin’s two Piano Concertos in chamber versions. Perhaps word had got around about the quality of the first concert…
The Doric members opened on their own, with Janáček’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ Quartet, the composer’s distillation of Tolstoy’s story about an unhappy wife who finds solace in Beethoven with a man who is not her husband. Janáček wrote it in a week, and the Doric’s performance identified with the torrent of impetuous passion and misery. The musicians’ close attention to all the detail of dynamics, bowing effects and Janáček’s speech-threshold phrasing was just the starting point for a disturbingly animated and sympathetic account of the Katya Kabanova-like fallen woman, and the players’ sound was by turns so raw, tender and brutal as to be almost onamatopeic. John Myerscough’s juddering cello told you all you need to know about crushing desire, Hélène Clément and Ying Xue graphically tightened the intensity, and Alex Redington spared nothing of the trauma in Janáček’s cruelly brief moments of rapture. It was strong meat.
The Chopin, though, wasn’t. The F-minor Piano Concerto was the first to be written, and is not as robust as the later-published E-minor. Chopin’s orchestration is at best functional, and apart from some passages of polite dialogue, the string-quintet version shadows the piano role closely. Durantel did a great job animating an accompaniment that otherwise would have painted itself into an anonymous, oddly quaint corner, but it was there only to support Benjamin Grosvenor’s aristocratic playing. His slightly nocturnal tone suits the music superbly, and he was able to lead the accompanists into many instances of interactive rubato, the nearest the enterprise got to the spirit of chamber interaction.
Myerscough’s seductive cello established the irresistible pleasantness of Dvořák’s (second) Piano Quintet, gently mobilised by Grosvenor’s tactfully magisterial role; and whereas the Chopin hadn’t exactly thrived being pared down, the Dvořák moved easily between chamber-music reality and orchestral potential under Grosvenor’s guidance. The Dumka slow movement was a particular pleasure, with a heavenly viola role from Hélène Clément, whose tone is so rich you’d think she had a cello under her chin (she plays a Guissani viola that Frank Bridge passed on to Britten), Grosvenor judged virtuosity and balance perfectly, and the two violinists’ sound had a sweetness that breathed the Dvořákian idiom. For a while, all was well with the world.