Things warmed up considerably in the next item, Huw Watkins’ brief one-movement Piano Quartet heard for the first time last year in London. This is a useful addition to the chamber music repertoire, which lacks the kind of shorter pieces that orchestras, with access to overtures and so on, can play to add variety to their programmes. The performance here was immediately engaging; it was as if the challenge of the new had awoken their musical antennae. The players relished the many fascinating instrumental colours that the composer had imagined and projected its quirky spirit very effectively. Not an easy piece to take in at a first hearing maybe (few are) but one that is well worth persevering with.
Elgar’s Piano Quintet is a big piece in every way, grandly conceived and deeply emotional; this performance gave it full value. The atmospheric opening was hauntingly played and the assertive material that follows had splendid energy with the serenade-like contrasting ideas elegantly expressed. There was tremendous attack in the final powerful climax, the expansive piano writing never allowed to obscure the string parts.
Expressive viola playing led us into the rhapsodic slow movement; glorious music that is sometimes introverted and other times ardent and both qualities were fully brought out in this well sustained performance. The main material of the finale is confident and assertive sometimes giving way to self-doubt and the performance caught this ambivalence well, ending with an electrifying adrenaline rush to bring the concert to an exciting close.