Review: The Frith Piano Quartet, Buxton Festival

Johann Hummel was born before Schubert but outlived him – though this is more a reflection of Schubert’s tragically short life. Hummel’s Quintet in E flat (Op 87) was written around 1802 when he was in his early 20s. It is constructed of, and built on, relatively simple phrases and motifs. The opening movement, for example, owes much to the first four notes played by piano and violin. This phrase is then comprehensively explored and developed by the whole ensemble.

Hummel was a pianist and it is not, therefore, surprising that he favours the instrument – which gets most of the flourishes. That said Benjamin Frith is a very sympathetic musician and does not dominate proceedings – the quintet as a whole being an undemonstrative unit. The Hummel makes an obvious and very attractive companion piece in this programme to Schubert’s Quintet in A major (The Trout).

Hummel’s work and instrumentation was a prompt for Schubert who wrote his Quintet in 1819, when 22 – at about the same age as Hummel was for his. It is fairly immediately apparent that Schubert’s work is richer than that of his inspiration. The textures, range and imaginative colourings that Schubert brings result in something of much greater substance.
The fourth movement – which is a set of variations based on his earlier song – give the quintet its popular name and the melody remains engaging and attractive no matter how familiar.

The Frith Piano Quartet – and guest John Tattersdill (double bass) – are well established on the chamber music circuit. This excellent performance at St John’s Church, in Buxton, showed why they are such welcome visitors.

By Keith Savage