Monday, April 30, 2012

Beethoven Quartets

Belcea Supreme The Belcea String Quartets started to get known at the Aldeburgh Festival, had residence there. It took some time to pronounce the name, hard C or soft, Romanian like we thought the leader was? But it did not take us long to realize the quality of the group, the four quarters of their fine string playing just right for the performance of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, all of which it played in a completely satisfying way, no frills just concentration on and devotion to classical quartets. Bartok was added, also good, as idiosyncratic as the Tackas. Recording contract, London concerts, soon Vienna, Paris, America – we soon had to share the Belcea with the civilised world; we did so willingly because the four came back to London often enough. We felt proud that 'our' quartet received the acclaim it deserved; the playing matured, became even more cherishable. On March 22 the Belcea String Quartet played a Beethoven evening in the Wigmore Hall: Opus 18/1 in F, 1800; 59/3 in C, 1806, 'Razumovsky', and 132 in A minor, 1825. In his exemplary programme notes Misha Donat pointed out that, of course, opus 18 does not apply any immaturity. Beethoven was 30 years old: he was well aware that his first published quartet was awaited with interest, would be scrutinized and compared, so he took great care with what he launched into the critical Viennese circle, revising this F major work considerably over a couple of years. One sign that this was no tiro, was his use of that important element in the work of …silence. Between opus 18 and 59 lie few years but an enormous growth in immaturity, the same composer but a world of difference. Which there is also between the 'Razumovsky' trio and the rare atmosphere of the late quartets. How was it that LvB did not simply explode with the intensity and concentration required to think out these amazing late pieces? Interesting that he augmented in them the use of sonata form by putting new life into some forms of former times. The quartet playing of the Belcea gave full weight and fluidity to the three works, one marvelled anew at the leader's mastery of her music, so high-flying, ever reaching way above the staves. The music was no doubt familiar to the packed and appreciative audience who took in the allusions in the slow movement of 18/1 to Romeo & Juliet, the worldliness – almost Jewish flavour – of the second movement of 59/3 and the rarified slow chorale of 132 that precedes the ecstatic dithyrambic finale. It wasn't easy to return to the mundane world.

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