A dark, dramatic statement opens Mozart’s Piano Quartet No 1, K478, strings and piano firmly asserting their presence, clearing space for a piano solo that leaps up and trickles down the keyboard. Kathryn Selby, who always brings a beautiful, shimmering patina to her piano tone, was joined in this Selby & Friends concert by a crack-squad trio of strings from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra – Concertmaster Andrew Haveron, Principal Viola Tobias Breider and Principal Cellist Umberto Clerici – rendering Mozart’s writing with clean, confident strokes.
Mozart’s First Piano Quartet was written in 1785, during a fertile period for the composer when he was composing and performing three or four piano concertos a season. It is no surprise, then, that his Piano Quartet should sound almost like a piano concerto in miniature – it was written the same year as his K.466 Concerto, also in a minor key.
Selby and the strings brought a refined timbre to the Quartet in City Recital Hall, while Selby rippled up and down the piano with a smooth, soft-edged sound. While the string sound was generally very clean and refined, Clerici brought some grittier energy to his lines when it was called for. The strings swelled in the Andante before scaling back to sparse, quiet lines. An ascending piano scale was caught by the safe hands of the trio, their ensemble playing exuding an easy familiarity. The piano tripped along in the Rondo finale, with the Haveron, Breider and Clerici soon giving chase.
Joaquín Turina’s Spanish-infused Piano Quartet of 1931 brought a touch of spice to an otherwise slightly meat-and-potatoes programme, the plaintive string opening introducing a Lento first movement full of longing and restrained passion. The quartet drew on Turina’s bolder colour-palette, Haveron shimmering ghostly harmonics against pizzicato from viola and cello and Clerici spinning melodies in his high register against a smokey string haze, taking the lead in the second movement against swift-flowing piano. Haveron’s solo was fiercely passionate in the opening of the Andante. Turina’s Quartet features a cyclical reuse of material, with moments from the earlier movements bound into the fabric of the third movement to give the work an effective sense of completion.
Selby and friends brought both spirit and weighty depth to the first movement of Dvořák’s Piano Quartet No 2. Breider’s viola lines were a highlight in this movement, as was the interplay that saw trickling piano motifs passed around the strings. Clerici’s cellos sound was wonderfully warm in his second movement solo lines against gentle piano and pizzicato, Selby’s piano as luminous as ever in the dream-like piano moments.
The third movement saw light, dancing figures played off against tenebrous melodies set against a drone, while the finale was a more boisterous folk-dance.
This was a concert of fine players performing fine music, and yet there was something missing. The artists never put a foot out of place, but there was little sense of danger, adrenaline or artistic risk to make it exciting. Nonetheless, a beautiful concert.