Penetrating Playing from the Belcea Quartet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Haydn, Britten, Shostakovich: Belcea Quartet (Corina Belcea, Axel Schacher, violins; Krzysztof Chorzelski, viola; Antoine Lederlin, cello). Wigmore Hall, London, 1.11.2013  (CC)

Haydn  – String Quartet in E flat, Op. 64/6 (1790)
Britten  – String Quartet No. 1 in D, Op. 25 (1941)
Shostakovich – String Quartet No. 3 in F, Op. 73 (1946)


This was a terrific concert from all angles. The Belcea Quartet has been impressing ever since its EMI Debut disc of Debussy, Dutilleux and Ravel. Their recital began with Haydn’s E flat Op. 64/6 Quartet, a work that has also, incidentally, found its way onto the Wigmore Hall’s own label – played there by the Elias Quartet. The piece’s invention goes almost without saying. The Belcea’s response was positively chameleon-like, adjusting to each of Haydn’s emotional areas with remarkable ease. The opening revealed a beautifully blended sound – the exposition repeat was honoured; the imitative development, with its clear but confounded ambitions to blossom out into a full fugue, was superbly realised with astonishing clarity of line, apparent even from the very back of the hall.

The Andante revealed true poignancy and subtlety; the contrast with Corina Belcea’s impassioned outburst was visceral, heartrending and delivered with a pure, piercing tone. The playful bucolic nature of the Menuetto offered maximal contrast. The finale, a Presto, was perhaps surprisingly serious – certainly in contrast with the Elias Quartet. The Belcea’s take was to raise the piece to almost symphonic status, and their ploy worked extremely well. Superb!

So was their account of the Britten First Quartet. The sheer control of the upper three members for the opening clusters was remarkable: ethereal and blanched of tone. This quartet, written in America, reveals Britten at his finest: imaginative, daring, yet instantly recognisable. The Belcea have, of course, put down a splendid recording of the Britten Quartets for EMI (review). This performance had all of the accuracy of a studio account with the immediacy and spontaneity of a live one. Britten’s wondrous variety of textures over the nearly ten-minute span is incredibly impressive; as are the near-Beethovenian explosions of the ensuing Allegretto con slancio. The third movement is an example of Britten “Night Music”, a near-relative to Bartók in this regard. The rich sound of the Belcea and their intense climax made this a memorable reading; the beautifully fragmentary, gestural finale constituted the perfect close.

Shostakovich’s Third Quartet was written five years after the Britten. The melody of its jaunty opening melody on first violin contains characteristic Shostakovich sleights that perhaps were underplayed here – memories of the great Borodin Quartet provided the yardstick here. The Belcea’s pianissimi were magical, and later frenetic passages bordered on the manic. The Belcea was better with the ghost of a dance that is the Moderato con moto – the second of the five movements – and in the extreme contrasts of the third movement, where huge energy meets ghostly shadows. It was violist Krzysztof Chorzelski who distinguished himself in his third movement solos, underpinned by desolate sets of three repeated notes on cello. The ten-minute finale has its share of faux-naïf material that could perhaps have had its dual nature better projected, with the underlying unrest at least there in the shadows, but this remains an impressive achievement. There was no encore, but none was needed.

A very special concert; particularly the first half.

Colin Clarke



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