Review: Benyounes Quartet with Hélène Clément at the King’s Hall, October 8, 2019

THE new season of Ilkley Concert Club opened last Wednesday with a concert of string quintets.

The Benyounes Quartet, who have forged a growing reputation over the last ten years, combined with Hélène Clément, violist of the Doric Quartet, to produce a wonderfully rich and dark string sound, full of energy and with crisp articulation. The additional tenor tones brought by the extra viola lend themselves to the melancholy and yearning that are characteristic of slow movements. This is particularly so of Bruckner, whose only chamber work, the string quintet in F, supplied the central work in the programme. The players interwove their long phrases beautifully, the themes emerging from the slowly shifting harmonies without disturbing the forward momentum of what is a truly symphonic work.

Mozart, himself a violist, produced six string quintets and for the first work, the players gave us the fourth, in the ‘dark’ key of G minor. The lively first movement, a masterpiece of counterpoint, is followed by an eccentrically stressed minuet, and then by a muted adagio. The final movement starts with a second adagio which modulates back to the major and leads to a sunny and energetic rondo finale. All these aspects were well brought out in this performance: with excellent balance between the parts and especially sensitive playing by Zara Benyounes in the first and last movements where her solo line was prominent but never dominating.

After the interval, Dvořák’s ‘American’ Quintet, a much more joyful and exuberant work, was given an equally splendid performance. At times in the scherzo, we really felt that we were at a ‘hoedown’, while the inherent melancholy of the folk-like themes in the first and third movements was given its proper character. The rhythmic energy of the final rondo brought the performance to a rousing conclusion, rewarded by prolonged and appreciative applause. An excellent and satisfying start to the new season!

Chris Skidmore