String Quartet in B minor, Op.64/2
String Quartet No.3 in B flat, Op.67
Arcanto Quartet [Antje Weithaas& Daniel Sepec (violins), Tabea Zimmerman (viola) & Jean-Guijen Queyras (cello)]
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 11 March, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert was advertised with the Brahms placed first, but the Arcanto Quartet made the logical decision to switch the order. We therefore began with one of Haydn’s more adventurous works in the string-quartet form, shadowing to some extent the only other quartet he wrote in B minor, the first of the six quartets published as Opus 33. There is a strong sense of Sturm und Drang in this work, in common with some of the middle-period Haydn symphonies. The Arcanto musicians coloured the already-bold harmonic language with bare octaves and a general lack of vibrato, save for Antje Weithaas, whose sweeter tone was a feature of the lyrical Adagio. This is unusually set in the key of B major, presenting intonation challenges, but the players were totally secure. The Minuet danced with a most enjoyable spring in its step, and the finale was energetic right up until its diminuendo, which was done with a subtle element of humour that characterised the performance.
It is difficult to imagine a better account of the Brahms, one of the composer’s most spontaneous and positive chamber works. The range of colours found by the musicians was ear-opening, particularly in the scherzo, where Tabea Zimmerman’s rich tone contrasted strongly with the wispy lines of the other three muted instruments. Weithaas in particular secured a silvery hue the like of which I have not heard before from a violin. The Andante was warm hearted and tenderly played. The ensemble-playing was outstanding, too, so when the top three instruments ran through fast semiquaver sequences in the first movement they were as one. The second subject in this movement danced with Mozartean lightness, the lead-in to it given at such a quiet and compelling pianissimo. Meanwhile the finale’s variations were almost balletic in their graceful contours, though it was also gratifying to hear the musicians at full volume in the coda, a really impressive heft bringing the strongest possible conclusion. I would urge you to hear this recital, either on the BBC iPlayer or on the Saturday repeat, for it contains string-quartet-playing of rare distinction.