FringeReview UK 2018
The Kent-based Hammig String Quartet have been UK and Internationally touring since 1989. David Burton violinist, viola-player Jayne Tyler and cellist Sean Turpin make up the three remaining members. They’ve recently explored string trios and other combinations including piano quartets with Clare Wibberley. They play just one work: Brahms’ forty-five minute Piano Quartet in a major, Op 26.
The Kent-based Hammig String Quartet have been UK and Internationally touring since 1989. David Burton violinist, viola-player Jayne Tyler and cellist Sean Turpin make up the three remaining members. With the sad loss of one violinist (another’s replacing him) they’ve recently explored string trios and other combinations including piano quartets with Clare Wibberley. They play just one work, but what a work: Brahms’ forty-five minute Piano Quartet in a major, Op 26
Brahms wrote his three piano quartets early on and though he published the first two back-to-back he kicked round the C minor Third (in fact the first he started) in a typically grumpy Brahms way till it emerged, tragic and refractory as his Op 60. The A major’s the only one of the three in a major key too, the first Op 25 – with its famous gypsy rondo – is in G minor. So the A major’s different, almost Schubertian.
For a start there’s a six-note melody leaning into Schubert’s world, one of the most effortlessly song-like melodies Brahms ever composed. The first is detached from the following five like a sounding and the whole takes flight in the Allegro non Troppo first movement – again the ‘non troppo’ means everything here till the finale isn’t very fast or slow. There’s an expansiveness, a sunniness, though a trellis of shadows in some sunny spa suggest themselves.
The Poco Adagio – again not too slowly – follows. Even with this marking it’s an epic journey. And difficult to define save that at the start we’re subjected to remarkable piano solo ripples, very close to Schubert’s late song (from Swansongs to use a translation): Die Stadt, The Town. It’s spectral almost spooky. Rays of slant August or whatever return, but the harmonic disturbance sis et up, and here it takes Brahms nearrly a quarter of an hour to explore them, with a kind of densely woven counterpoint somehow loosened, but otherwise exploratory, slightly unpredictable.
The Scherzo – yes Poco Allegro, not too fast, is a but intermezzo-like, and almost starts like a finale, with a catchy melodic quality serving as a homecoming. It seems far briefer and leads into the even briefer finale a pure Allegro this time. It’s again a cheerful stomp with rhythmic bite reminiscent of the G minor finale, though wholly different and more Brahmsian than either Hungarian inflections or Schubert – though you see where Brahms gets his sudden fermatas – those underlinings from: that’s Schubert too, as well as Beethoven.
My Curzon/Budapest recordings make the first two movement twelve minutes, the third eleven and the last ten. I experienced something different and elastic here. What the Hammigs and Wibberley have done is refract that second movement and speed up the last two and it works. This is a thoroughly absorbing musicianly account. The ensemble’s absolutely inside the music, despite the hot day making re-tuning more necessary than usual. Wibberley’s strongly idiomatic and they all fit each other with unanimity and panache.