“Super-subtle Frenchwomen joined by live-wire pianist and festival doyen.”
Garvey, Quatuor Zaïde, Classical Vauxhall review – vibrant chamber music for all
Three concerts, three fascinating venues, seven world-class young(ish) players, an audience of all ages and a musical storytelling event for 200 schoolchildren: this is how to launch a festival with outwardly modest means. Artistic Director of Classical Vauxhall Fiachra Garvey already has form, as the founder of the West Wicklow Festival (of chamber music), in the part of Ireland where he accommodates his schedule “to help with the yearly lambing, dipping, shearing, harvesting and all the other elegant and refined activities of home” (he was delighted, he told us, to discover Vauxhall’s City Farm). The urban exchange, thanks to the support of “Business Improvement District” Vauxhall One, is officially a hit. Last night Garvey joined the equally articulate Quatuor Zaïde to introduce a programme to a packed house which culminated in a colossal performance of Franck’s Piano Quintet.
Despite its neo-Gothic grandeur. St Peter’s Church, Kennington Lane is welcoming both acoustically and visually, with twinkling lights around the pillars and no-one in the lively audience too far from the players. A front-row vantage-point was rewarded by the incredible subtlety and sophistication of the Quatuor Zaïde. Nothing but the highest level of musicianship will do for Mozart’s G major Quartet, K387, almost outdoing Haydn in its wit and novelties. Listening had to be intense from the very first theme – one bar loud, the second soft – and the following exchanges between first violinist Charlotte Maclet, second Leslie Boulin Raulet (the two pictured below with Garvey) and viola-player Sarah Chenaf, never the same twice (likewise Maclet’s handling of the Minuet’s radical piano–forte downward chromatic line). Cellist Juliette Salmona finally got her moment in the sun here, and underpinned the chords of the heartfelt Andante cantabile with startling resonance. I blush to say I was caught out by the big joke near the end, akin to the one in Haydn’s Symphony No. 90 – a full forte cadence which is bound to win applause before the last six bars sneak in a quiet close.
Boulin Raulet’s words about the expressivity shared between Mozart and Webern little over a hundred years later were welcome; it was vital for this audience to know that Webern’s Six Bagatelles would last about three minutes, adjusting to the shock of the new where every note has the value of a phrase and weird sounds hover on the cusp of silence. The Zaïdes could have played it all again and the listeners would have been just as happy. But their return to Mozart left us wanting more of that ilk: the Queen of the Night’s second aria from The Magic Flute, arranged for string quartet by an anonymous hand less than a decade after Mozart’s death. Maclet graced the vocal line with stylish instrumental ornamentation. I can’t wait to investigate the 45-minute Flute sequence twinned with K387 on the group’s CD. The next will do the same for Beethoven, pairing an early quartet with the amazing string quintet transcription of the “Kreutzer” Sonata which I was lucky to hear in Highgate late last year.
Garvey prepared us for the love-tempests of Franck’s Piano Quintet – rooted in the 58-year-old’s infatuation with a young student – before plunging into the rodomontade and double octave worthy of a Liszt or Tchaikovsky Concerto. Possibly less sustaining pedal would have made for greater clarity in the church acoustic – strings went pleasingly easy on the vibrato – but there was electrification in the unanimity with which the team rose to the insane climax of the first movement, bursting into a stomp which could belong to the finale of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto, was electrifying. It was fine to get lost in the major-minor haze of the central Lento, con molto sentimento and the fiery finale, anchored finally by a return to the lyrical “motto” before the last heaven-storm.
I’m sure an encore was in the offing, but that was halted by the abrupt if enthusiastic applause of an audience no doubt unused to this set-up, But no matter; they’ll be back for more. If you’ve attended chamber music festivals everywhere, you’ll know what an achievement it is to win a new audience of younger listeners while not alienating the core supporters, and on its first showing, Classical Vauxhall did exactly that. If they return to hear the most fascinating guitarist on the planet, Sean Shibe, in Brunswick House tonight and Garvey partnering flautist Adam Walker in the Garden Museum on Saturday, they’ll be richly rewarded. By David Nice.