Quatuor Mosaiques/Susan Tomes, Perth Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty

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Five Stars

WHAT an extraordinary weekend’s music-making in Perth Concert Hall. “I have never heard string quartet-playing of that quality,” said an elderly gentleman whom I do not know. “And nor have I, sir”, was the only response I could come up with. The group was Eric Hobarth’s Quatuor Mosaiques, which is the finest period-instrument string quartet in the world. They were light years ahead of the pack when they made their contribution to the Edinburgh Festival’s Haydn series in St Cuthbert’s Church many years ago. They are now, in terms of their playing, in a different solar system. How do they communicate? It’s invisible. I tried to catch, on Friday and Saturday nights, the nod of a head, the uplift of a bow, a telling glance, the flick or a wrist or even the raising of an eyebrow. I caught nothing: their timing, co-ordination, scrupulous balance, incredible texturing that lets the light stream through, and seamless integration are beyond scientific explanation. They are magicians of unquantifiable skill and experience, and what they do beguiles the eye, the ear and the mind.

What they did at the weekend was spell-binding. Mozart wrote six string quartets in honour of his great mentor and chum, Joseph Haydn. Each is a masterpiece on which Mozart laboured and lavished genius and inspiration. Hobarth’s magical Mosaiques played them all in dust-free, high-fibre, low-calorie interpretations that raised issues for other such performers: how do you play warmly, with rich expressivity, a big sound and real dramatic power on gut strings and with almost no vibrato?

Nobody really knows but the group. But the clouds dispersed and the light streamed through textures, illuminating a very good, self-pilfering, multi-contrapuntal element from the finale of the Jupiter Symphony in the G major Quartet, a shockingly-prophetic glimpse of Mahler from the third movement of the E flat Quartet, and myriad revelations piling up by the page.

But Wolfgang Amadeus didn’t have the weekend entirely to himself. In between two of Mozart’s quartets on Friday, old Joe Haydn stole onto the stage, bringing with him pianist Susan Tomes and a dazzling performance of Haydn’s E minor Piano Trio whose sparkling wit in the racing finale with its outrageously-comic conclusion suggested that Haydn, a master of humour, would have appreciated mightily the madcap antics of Tom and Jerry. And then on Saturday afternoon, Tomes had the stage to herself in a recital which explored a Haydn/Mozart connection, gave us a set of Haydn’s Variations and an achingly-beautiful Mozart Rondo.

Even on Saturday night, as the astonishing Mosaiques turned out effortlessly-brilliant accounts of Mozart’s E flat and B flat quartets, that Haydn man seemed to nudge his younger chum in the ribs, as though to say: “Shove over, Wolfie and cop this lot for originality,” while the group played Haydn’s G minor opus 20 Quartet with its wildly-inventive finale. A great weekend, though thinly-attended.