I have a soft spot for Beethoven's opus 16 Piano Quartet as I have frequently enjoyed playing it – not that I am revealing an unsuspected past as a string player or a pianist. No, this Quartet started out life as a Quintet for wind instruments and piano in which I played clarinet. It works equally well in its string manifestation and finds the young composer at his most lyrical, particularly in the exquisite Andante Cantabile, which is like one long song. It has a relaxed melodic creativity which the aging Beethoven would increasingly struggle to realise. The beautiful blend achieved by the Primrose Quartet in their performance of this music for Music Nairn ensured that the work's melodic virtues were constantly on display. This is a group whose sense of ensemble is unfailing and whose musicality is constantly to the fore.
After the Beethoven, the Primrose Quartet embarked on the Schumann Piano Quartet op 47, a major masterpiece of the genre and one of Schumann's most consummate chamber works. Again it was the exquisite Andante cantabile which stood out for its plangent lyricism as each of the players took it in turn to inhabit Schumann's most eloquent and expressive melodies. The group's cellist Andrew Fuller had a particularly neat solution to the famous low Bb required at the end of the Andante and again at the start of the Finale, a note technically off the bottom end of the instrument. He unobtrusively tuned his C-string down a tone during the Andante and then for the Finale played all the C-string notes scordatura – up a tone. This technically demanding solution was subsumed in a highly musical account of the whole Quartet, with John Thwaites' deliciously light touch at the keyboard beautifully complemented by the utterly assured playing on violin, viola and cello.
Having scaled the emotional and musical heights of the Schumann, in the second half the ensemble tackled another peak of the Piano Quartet repertoire, Brahms' op.25 Quartet in G-minor, a huge work full of intense Brahmsian melodies and moments of genuine inspiration, such as the swaggering march which springs unexpectedly out of the Andante con moto or the sizzling virtuosity of the gipsy Finale. This is a work which the group have been performing regularly since their formation twelve years ago, and a piece which they clearly love to play. The Intermezzo and Andante fairly seethed with passion before the group seized the alla Zingarese Finale by the scruff of the neck, ending this thrilling concert with a fireworks display of virtuosity and crackling energy.
Over the years the Primrose Quartet have established an enviable reputation for the strength and blend of their ensemble producing a rich blooming sound, for their individual virtuosity and their ambitious programming, and their latest appearance in Nairn brought back happy memories of previous enjoyable concerts at the Clifton for the Nairn Performing Arts Guild and in Inverness Town House for Inverness Chamber Music.