Live Review: The Garth Newel Piano Quartet

The Charleston Chamber Music Society opened their sixty-eighth season Saturday evening with the Garth Newel Piano Quartet, who performed works by Brahms and Fauré. The concert was held at Christ Church United Methodist in Charleston, which doubles as a small music venue.

Researching the Quartet, I found there isn’t a member named Garth Newel. Rather, “Garth Newel” is a Welsh phrase meaning “new hearth” or “new home”, and it is the name of the non-profit music center in Virginia which spawned the Quartet. The Quartet is composed of violinist Teresa Ling, viola player Evelyn Grau, cellist Tobias Werner, and pianist Andrew Harley.

The Garth Newel Piano Quartet is apparently known for its high-energy, informal, and interactive performances, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Though I personally find watching an orchestra perform classical music more exciting than seeing a rock band shake a stage, the terms “high-energy” and “interactive” aren’t typically synonymous with chamber music. I’m still not sure what could have been considered “interactive” about the performance, aside from pianist Andrew Harley explaining the history of the music. But they were energetic and the intimate setting did create an informal atmosphere.

The group performed “C minor Piano Quartet” by composer Johannes Brahms followed by Gabriel Fauré’s “G minor Piano Quartet.”

“C minor Piano Quartet” was inspired by the tragic death of Brahms’ friend and mentor Robert Schumann in an asylum, as well as Brahms’ own unrequited love for Schumann’s wife Clara. For the quartet, Brahms created the character of Werther, a young man who commits suicide over his unrequited love for an older, married woman. As a result, the Brahms piece was dark and dramatic, interspersed with brief moments of sweet melancholy.

Meanwhile, Fauré drew inspiration for his “G minor Piano Quartet” from the aural memories of his childhood, mimicking the sounds of a forge and the peals of evening church bells. The sprawling piano of Fauré’s quartet made for a more sweeping, cinematic sound. I thought the Quartet played both sets beautifully, but I definitely preferred Fauré’s arrangement.

If you live near Charleston and enjoy classical music, I recommend that you attend one of the Charleston Chamber Music Society’s upcoming performances. You can view their schedule and purchase tickets at their website.

Charleston Chamber Music Society Official Site
Garth Newel Piano Quartet Official Site