Wednesday, March 6, 2024

concert review: Castalian Quartet

I'd been very impressed with the Castalian Quartet on my first visit to the Banff String Quartet Competition eight years ago, and this was my first chance to hear them since, nonwithstanding that only two of the four members are still the same people.

It still sounded much the same, navigating a serious-minded way through Haydn's Op. 20/5 with bright, intense colors, and playing Brahms's Piano Quintet, one of my all-time favorite chamber works, with pianist Stephen Hough. The treble intensity of the quartet made the first two movements sound a bit thin, as if fewer instruments were playing than usual, but they made up for it by emitting the scherzo as a ferocious roar.

Also on the program, a quartet by Hough himself, which he'd been commissioned to write for a recording otherwise of French quartet music. So he decided to write a piece reminiscent of Les Six, though none of them were among the composers on the record. Yeah, it sounded a little like Les Six at times, but it didn't sound much like Stravinsky in the parts that were supposed to sound like Stravinsky, and much of it didn't sound like anything at all. You want to be very careful before you position yourself between Haydn and Brahms.

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