An Impressive Recital by the Tokyo String Quartet and Andreas Haefliger

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Haydn, Debussy, Brahms: Tokyo String Quartet, Andreas Haefliger (piano), Wigmore Hall, London 10.4.2012 (RB)

Haydn: String Quartet in G, Op. 77 No. 1
Debussy: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10
Brahms: Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34

The Tokyo String Quartet was established 42 years ago and it has released a long and distinguished series of recordings. Andreas Haefliger is from a renowned Swiss musical family and he has also released a number of critically acclaimed recordings.

The Tokyo Quartet opened with Haydn’s penultimate string quartet which was written in 1799 and foreshadows the radical innovations of Beethoven and Schubert. The opening ‘Allegro moderato’ was light and elegant with the Tokyo Quartet deftly bringing out some of Haydn’s deadpan subversive wit. They underscored beautifully the harmonic adventurousness of the score and there was excellent interplay and co-ordination between all four players. The ‘Adagio’ was full-blooded and muscular with the Tokyo Quartet bringing a full and rich tone to the score. The ornamentation by the first violinist (Martin Beaver) was deft and crisp and there was some gorgeous lyricism. The minuet was full of bucolic charm and there was a well judged range of dynamics and shading in the trio. The Tokyo Quartet was again not afraid to bring out the harmonic innovations in the finale and the articulation of the rapid passage work was superb.

Debussy’s string quartet was written in 1893 which the composer was 31 and it is one of his earlier masterpieces. It is a highly original work in which Debussy found his own distinctive and original musical voice. The Tokyo Quartet relished some of the dissonances in the opening movement which is marked ‘animé et très décidé’ and there was lovely textural layering and a shared understanding and responsiveness to the swelling and subsidence in the music. The pizzicato second movement was light and elfin with the players enjoying the shifting textures and colours. The third movement marked ‘Andantino, doucement expressif’ had some wonderful soulful dialogue as the artists brought out the warmth and sensuality in some of the long sinuous phrases. The finale was a great piece of chamber music playing with the Tokyo Quartet acutely alive to the fluctuations in tempo and texture allowing the movement to unfold as an organic sinuous web of thematic ideas.

The concert concluded with Brahms’ great piano quintet for which the Tokyo Quartet was joined by the superb Andreas Haefliger. Brahms’ quintet is one of the great chamber music pieces of the 19th century and it went through a number of incarnations (string quartet, piano duet) before Brahms decided to score the work as a piano quintet. All five players managed to achieve a symphonic breadth and depth in the opening ‘Allegro non troppo’. Haefliger succeeded in achieving weight and depth of tone while managing to stay in perfect balance with his quartet partners. The slow movement was sensitive and heartfelt with the dialogue exquisitely nuanced. The scherzo was rhythmically incisive with all five players enjoying the dynamic and tonal contrasts. The counterpoint in the fugato section was superbly voiced and controlled. The opening of the finale was probing and introspective with all five players again in perfect balance. The five musicians swept the music to its powerful climax in the ferocious final coda.

Altogether, this was an absolutely wonderful evening of collaborative music making with all five players showing real musical insight and maturity. Excellent stuff!

Robert Beattie