The genre of the piano quartet, though not terribly novel at first glance, is a rare one to be appreciated and perfected by permanent ensembles. There are countless string quartets on tour as well as a healthy number of piano trios and innumerable string and piano duos. This has much to do with the available literature; although there are a healthy number of works written for this particular combination. For this reason, and many others, it was refreshing to hear a very surefooted rendition of the Schumann as well as works by Suk and Popelka on Wednesday evening in one of the four "Neue Säle" of the Musikverein performed by an up-and-coming ensemble.
The Stratos Quartett exploded out of the gate with the seldom-performed Piano Quartet in A minor Op.1 by Czech composer, violinist and chamber musician Josef Suk. Suk was a student (and later son-in-law) of Antonin Dvořák. The work sounds like Dvořák and was incredibly enjoyable from the bravura of the opening Allegro appassionato, through the gorgeous dripping nature scenes in the Adagio, winding up with a passionate, dramatically and texturally exciting Allegro con fuoco. It is great music... The quartet demonstrated wonderful communication and ensemble, hitting the right blend of polish and energy. The ensemble lands very well together and the players definitely know their way around the romantic repertoire – this was a very well thought through rendition of a gorgeous piece of literature.
The Schumann was brilliant and fun! Everyone's sound had opened up beautifully, which we fully appreciated in the Andante cantabile. Technical proficiency and brilliant clarity prevailed without ever feeling staid or overcautious through the quicker movements, and the Scherzo and Finale were taken at risky clips without the slightest sense of danger. Bravo!