String Quartet in G, Op.18/2 Shostakovich
String Quartet No.3 in F, Op.73
Michelangelo String Quartet [Mihaela Martin & Stephan Picard (violins), Nobuko Imai (viola) & Frans Helmerson (cello)]
Michelangelo String Quartet
Monday, October 09, 2006 Wigmore Hall, London
Written by Ben Hogwood
The Michelangelo Quartet, whose members have been together for nearly five years, is finally on the verge of committing itself to disc with cycles of Beethoven and Shostakovich for Pan Classics. On the evidence of this lunchtime recital, those projects will be well worth seeking out.
Shostakovichs Third Quartet begins in a convivial atmosphere but ends unmistakeably charred by suffering and war. In the hands of the Michelangelo Quaret this transformation was striking, all the more so as the relatively carefree opening evoked the contemporaneous Ninth Symphony. The development section of the first movement cast a cloud with its increasingly frenzied figurations, but the ending restored tranquillity, cast off perfectly by Mihaela Martins closing phrase.
The unusual five movement design includes two scherzos, the first described by the composer as "rumblings of unrest and anticipation". Nobuko Imais leaden viola motif brought reminders of the Eighth Symphony, while the section of ghostly chords that followed were truly disquieting. The quasi-orchestral second scherzo cut deeply, a "dance of death" with Imai again taking the lead over her colleagues sardonic pizzicatos.
After this brutal music the subsidence of the Adagio was well judged, as was the chromatic uncertainty of the finale, with the bridge between the two a fragile duet between Imai and the attentive Frans Helmerson. The coda was ice-cold, with Martins piercing violin reaching ever higher at the close.
This offered a complete contrast with the opening work, a warm-hearted performance of Beethovens second published quartet, which found the Michelangelo keen to emphasise the harmonic daring that the composers wit allowed. The impact of an unexpected scherzo passage in the slow movement was dramatised, the contrast between languid slow music (a little suave) and the nimble Allegro fully emphasised.
A finely balanced Minuet was characterised by excellent dialogue in its question and answer subjects, while Helmersons understated cello was the springboard for the exuberant finale, again bringing the composers wit to the fore. As Misha Donats programme note observed, such writing caused consternation to Beethovens contemporaries. Little did they know what lay in store for them!