Monday, 8th October 2012  ALAN COOPER

The Piatti String Quartet launched a new season for Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts with the first ever ACMC performance of a slightly unusual work. This was a setting for string quartet of five Bach Fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier arranged by Mozart. The Five Fugues K405 is one of those hybrid works where performers can choose to incline either to Bach or to Mozart and results will prove rather different. When I got home after the concert I listened to a couple of performances that were definitely Bach centred. The fugal themes were played quite forcefully with little differentiation in expression or dynamics by the four instruments. In their performance however, the Piatti Quartet leaned more towards Mozart and the special expressiveness of the quartet medium. Much of the playing was quiet, thoughtful and at times even dreamy with the different instruments allowed to express their own particular voices and of course Mozart varies the instruments that make the initial statement of the fugal theme. The E flat Fuga opened by the cello was gentle and elegant, the Fuga in E Major thoughtful, the d minor slow and sinuous and the final Fuga in D Major more lively and incisive. This approach sought to match the intrinsic character of each key to the mode of playing and resulted in a performance that gave the impression not so much of a list of separate unconnected pieces but rather a unified five movement work.

Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E flat Op 44 No 3 was far more straightforward. The Piatti Quartet gave us a beautifully detailed account of the extensive opening movement. The viola player in this ensemble sat at the front of the stage with the cello behind him. Was this because in this piece and especially in this movement Mendelssohn gives this instrument more than usual prominence? Certainly David Wigram gave us an exceptionally colourful performance.

The Scherzo was very fine indeed, full of atmosphere and import. I can do no better than to quote Lydia Thomson’s very fine programme note: “the movement … is one of his best, suggesting hunting in mysterious woods” darker in feeling but not unlike the incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Piatti Quartet’s performance just got better and better as it progressed. Lovely singing strings in the Adagio were followed by an electrifying finale with leader Charlotte Scott’s violin setting the heather on fire at the conclusion of the work.

The highlight of the entire concert for me though was a wonderfully accomplished performance of Schubert’s Quartet in d minor D 810. This is one of the all time great quartets in the repertoire and it was astonishing to hear that Schubert went to his grave thinking it to be an abject failure – one is reminded of Bizet and Carmen where the same thing happened.

The centrepiece of the work is the set of variations in the slow movement based on the song “Death and the Maiden”. Here was wonderfully delicate playing especially from the leader and exceptional warmth from the cello. The Scherzo was not quite allegro molto as suggested but the rhythmic force of the playing was quite splendid and in the whirling finale, Charlotte Scott was once again on fire. The Quartet responded to a lengthy ovation with a delicious encore,FrankBridge’s Second Idyll.

Piatti Quartet review