I have experienced the four-seasons-in-a-day scenario in the East Neuk of Fife more than once, but on Sunday it was more like a dozen different moods in a day.
These ranged from the joyous to the funereal, with a huge spectrum of emotion in between.
This was courtesy of the East Neuk Festival, but to be more precise the monumental performances of pianist Elizabeth Leonskaja – first of all – and the Pavel Haas Quartet with Boris Giltburg (piano).
Rollercoaster of emotions
It was through their interpretation of music by Beethoven, Brahms and Dvorak that caused this rollercoaster of emotions, dictated by the composers’ penchant for variety of mood, colour and texture.
Crail Parish Church was the setting for this melee of moods, with Leonskaja starting proceedings with her performance of the last three Beethoven sonatas.
This was phenomenal in every aspect, but she was simply interpreting what Beethoven wanted, calmness personified one moment, a fiery fortissimo the next.
She’s been enchanting audiences for nigh on 60 years, and she shows no sign of stopping.
Her fluidity on the keyboard was exceptional, her forcefulness was engaging, her touch sublime and her precision pure and perfect.
A marvellous technique
Possibly some of the most difficult works in the repertoire, and a test of stamina to boot, but this performance was dashed off with more than a touch of bravado which, allied to a marvellous technique honed over the years, made for compulsive listening.
In my mind, the piano quintets of Brahms and Dvorak are chalk and cheese, the minor key prevalent in the former, a sunny disposition prevailing in the latter.
This was where the moods swung to and fro, passion in the opening Allegro of the Brahms followed by a demonic Scherzo.
Magical playing from the ensemble
Dvorak followed suit, a funereal take on the second movement followed up by a final two movements that had joie de vivre carved through them.
That’s the content of these great works in a nutshell, but it needed some magical playing from the ensemble to accentuate all the factors considered.
And this we got from a quartet who are simply on fire and a pianist caught up in the exuberance and technical brilliance that oozed out from start to finish.
I used “phenomenal” to describe the performance of Ms Leonskaja, but you need a full set of superlatives to describe this fantastic display of chamber music.
The final helter-skelter semiquaver dash which brought the Dvorak to a triumphant close, was one of superb unity, intuitive togetherness and natural flair, qualities that have seen them voted into the ranks of the top 20 best-ever quartets.
It’s an accolade this exciting ensemble more than deserve.