Review: Escher String Quartet, British Musical Society, York, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall,November 30

ALTHOUGH tales of Mozart’s improvisational prowess abound, it is not always easy for us to grasp the sonic implications of this.

The performance of his 1789 F-major quartet (K.590) that opened last Friday’s BMS concert offered a glimpse of this creative impulse, with the New York-based Escher String Quartet lending the work the ebb and flow of a spontaneous outpouring.

Their name references the "interplay between individual components working together to form a whole" in the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher – a common sentiment among quartets, but one which resonated profoundly here.

Each player brought something musically distinct: where violist Pierre Lapointe offered urgent candour, cellist Brook Speltz opted for expansive consideration, with violinists Adam Barnett-Hart and Danbi Um respectively providing finessed and tenebrous tones.

The ensuing dialogues provided a source of fascination throughout, and although initial convergences were not always seamless, they were soon uniting with captivating incision.

The evening’s centrepiece was the rarely heard third quartet by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a 1945 return to "absolute" music that nevertheless draws upon motifs from his extensive film-score output. The work was far more cohesive than this borrowing process might suggest, however, with each gripping movement helping to unveil the ardent emotional core that lay beneath its dusky exterior.

After they had stylishly manoeuvred an early Gershwin Lullaby, the Escher’s rendering of Ravel’s much-loved quartet sidestepped sepia tones in favour of visceral Technicolor; although a few softer moments were taxed of some of their glistening magic, the effect was irresistibly thrilling.

Review by Richard Powell