FIBS at Conway Hall, January, 2012
Two Artistic Directors playing piano duets together: that was how the Fibonacci Sequence’s delightful and deeply satisfying concert in the long-established series of Sunday chamber concerts at Conway Hall on 8 January, 2012, began. The pianists were Simon Callaghan, artistic director of the Conway Hall Sunday Concerts, and Kathron Sturrock, artistic director of the Fibonacci Sequence.
The programme opened with Brahms’s Hungarian Dances nos. 2, 3 and 8, their style that of Gipsy music rather than that of indigenous Magyar folk-music, set by Brahms with characteristically rich, satisfying textures. They were played with pianistic virtuosity subsumed under a natural feeling for balance, phrasing and dance-rhythms and the artistic unanimity and precision of ensemble that usually only come with years of duet-playing. The duettists returned later in the first half of the concert with Moszkowski’s Spanish Dances nos. 1, 2 and 3, the last of these demanding — permitting, one could say — some intimate intermingling of their crossing hands and arms. In these, technical brilliance is more a feature than in the Brahms, and their idiom is closer to that of late-Romantic German salon music than to that of Spanish composers like Albeniz, Granados or Falla, but again the virtuosity with which the players tossed off Moszkowski’s brilliant filigree decorations was integrated into warmly and richly musical performances.
The two sets of duets framed the first of two piano quintets, the ‘chamber version’ of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K414, Kathron Sturrock now the undisputed solo pianist. The performance exemplified perfectly one of the supreme qualities of the Fibonacci Sequence’s playing, the feeling that this is simply how the piece goes and it cannot be played any other way. It sounds easy, but it is a matter of impeccable ensemble, perfectly judged tempi, unostentatiously careful balance and sensitive and intelligent phrasing.
Of course, the work is not really a quintet and the idea of a ‘chamber version’, suggesting a subsequent arrangement of the concerto original, misleading. The ‘little A major’ concerto, one of Mozart’s own favourites, is one of a set of three of which Mozart wrote that they could be played ‘a quatro’, a term by which he most likely meant ‘four parts’ rather than specifically four instruments. There are passages, in the opening ritornello, for example, where the viola’s passing dissonances and suspensions get uncomfortably close to the ‘cello’s bass line, and the addition of a double bass doubling the ‘cello an octave below (as in an orchestra) would clarify the voice-leading. But to hear the piece played as intimate chamber-music, with the piano ‘primus’ but very much ‘inter pares’, was a delight.
A single work took up the second half of the concert, Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A, op.81, one of the very greatest of piano quintets and at the same time one of the most ravishingly beautiful in melody, harmony and texture. The marvellous and original opening, with delicate, rhythmic piano arpeggios ushering in a solo ‘cello melody, was played as if with all the time in the world by Benjamin Hughes, with deep expression, yet as if communing with himself, a seeming contradiction perfectly resolved; and the whole first movement grew organically out of this. The different tempi of the Dumka were perfectly related and Kathron Sturrock resisted the temptation to linger over the hypnotic piano beginning, though the magical D sharp of the ascending alto line could perhaps have been agogically stressed by a minute delay; Yuko Inoue made the most of the viola melodies, with rich tone and voice-like expression contrasting beautifully with the clarity of the violin lines. The Scherzo, a furiant, was both chamber-musical and an extrovert dance, and the Finale, one of Dvorak’s most structurally successful, made a triumphant ending to a marvellous concert.
Michael Graubart, 20/1/2012.