Tuesday, 20 October 2009

THE JOY OF MUSIC FESTIVAL 2009: Pascal Rogé with the LCO Quartet

Pascal Rogé (extreme right) with members
of the LCO Quartet at M on the Fringe.
City Hall Concert Hall, Hong Kong
Thursday (15 October 2009)

The formula of this excellent music festival is simple: invite top pianists and competition winners for recitals and pair them up with the chamber group in residence, members of the London Chamber Orchestra (LCO). Some very memorable concerts have resulted in previous years and this one was little different.

The LCO quartet – violinists Andrew Haveron and Magnus Johnston, violist Joel Hunter and cellist Pierre Doumenge – opened the proceedings with two Waltzes (Op.54) by Dvorak. These are transcriptions of his simple piano pieces, and have a rustic charm, a pleasant prélude to more serious things to come.

Gabriel Fauré’s Second Piano Quartet in G minor (Op.45) is far less familiar than its predecessor because it is a far darker work. Romantic impulses reigned, but with more subtle melodies, mild dissonances and unexpected harmonic shifts, the music proved somewhat unsettling. Rogé and his partners thrived in this sonic milieu, trading sabre-like jabs in the hectic and turbulent scherzo, a musical high tension wire where sparks flew unabated.

Violist Joel Hunter’s plaint-like solo in the slow movement set the tone for the work’s emotional core, with the ensemble rising to an impassioned high. The melody finally arrived at Rogé’s fingers, and when accompanied by the strings, the result was a magical moment to be savoured. Balance was also excellent in the energetic finale, which bounded with almost unrestrained vigour, mixing inner rage with unspoken ecstacy. The performance on a whole had an inevitability that suggested that it could not have been better performed.

Another relative rarity was Shostakovich’s First String Quartet (Op.49), cast in the sunny key of C major. Deceptively happy on the surface (the composer referred to it as a “springtime work”), the compact work bristled with the usual underlying unease and tension. The solos were very well performed, heightening the irony and wit inherent in the score. Hints of sardonic smiles appeared fleetingly as the ensemble careened like a Formula One driver from one comedic turn to another. Perfect chemistry made this cheeky piece work.

The autumnal Clarinet Trio in A minor (Op.114) by Brahms closed this varied and enjoyable concert. Clarinettist Timothy Orpen (left) produced a full and mellow sound which went down very well with ever-busy Pierre Doumenge’s cello (he played in all four works!). It was the latter who opened the work with a gorgeous melody, one that defined the aesthete of late Brahms. The exchanges between clarinet and piano in the second movement were simply lovely, only topped by a section towards the end when the clarinet’s fragmented themes were filled in by his partners.

The congenial waltz-like 3rd movement – full of jollity - also provided contrasts with a tempest-tossed finale, where another gypsy flavoured romp sat cheek by jowl with some of Brahms’ alternating irrepressible and reposeful moments. Another vigourous and life-affirming reading, and another concert in the wealth of chamber riches that is The Joy of Music Festival. Long may this continue!

The Joy of Music Festival is organised by The Chopin Society of Hong Kong.

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