Cuarteto Casals , Alexander Melnikov. piano, Bath Mozartfest, Assembly Rooms

THERE was a distinct cool draught in the Assembly Rooms when Cuarteto Casals arrived onstage to start the concert with Mozart’s String Quartet in B flat major.

In between movements, violinist Vera Martinez, wearing a lovely bare-armed dark green full evening dress, certainly not designed for a cold winter’s evening, had to resort to breathing warm air onto her bow hand in preparation for the next movement. Despite this, with lead violin Abel Tomas in full cry, this quartet never lost any of its fine balance that give all four players a chance to take centre stage.

There were no distractions during the Beethoven String Quartet in B flat major with the bubbling Scherzo and Trio Allegro giving way to the final movement, which starts with a lovely melancholic theme before changing to the lighthearted rhythms of a German Dance.

All of these changes were handled with great dexterity by the quartet, as was the more violent change to drama and power as joined by pianist Alexander Melnikov they moved on to Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor. Here the two violinists swapped roles and positions with Vera Martinez moving to the right of the group and Abel Tomas placed so that the majority of the audience were denied a clear view of Alexander Melnikov at the piano. Obviously this did not change the balance of the instrumentation, but somehow by cutting off our view to the pianist seemed to lessen the dominance which the piano often has in this work.

Any of these thoughts, real or imaginary, did not detract from an excellent interpretation of this work full of drama and passion, no-one showing more commitment to those two emotions than Vera Martinez, who fiery outbursts left behind as distant memories any earlier thoughts of cold hands or a cold heart. There were also chances, readily taken, for cellist Arnau Tomas to show some fine touches of musical humour, and Jonathan Brown to remind us that the understated viola was still an important part of the quartet.

Whilst even if partially physically hidden, there was no doubting the quality and power of pianist Alexander Melnikov’s perfectly timed, expertly judged contributions, when he and the quartet were in full flow it was tempting to stand up and cheer them home. The more restrained audience in the Assembly Rooms left their cheering to the warm reception they gave the players at the end of this fine concert.


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