Arcanto Quartet

String Quartet in D, Op.71/2
Six Bagatelles, Op.9
String Quartet in F

Arcanto Quartet
[Daniel Sepec & Antje Weithaas (violins), Tabea Zimmermann (viola) & Jean-Quijen Queyras (cello)]

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 13 February, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The Arcanto Quartet is essentially a group of musicians who have already made their mark as soloists. They also have plenty of Wigmore Hall experience between them, but here take their bow in the venue as an ensemble. Rather appropriately, they chose to begin with the second of Haydn’s ‘Apponyi’ quartets, the two groups of three, Opuses 71 and 74, written specifically for an ensemble of solo performers.

In comparison with Haydn’s earlier works for string quartet, these certainly make enhanced technical demands, occasionally at the expense of the familiar intimacy often found by the composer in this idiom. The Arcanto rose to these challenges, the authoritative cello of Jean-Quijen Queyras leading the first movement off at quite a lick – perhaps a little too fast, though it meant the light-footed Allegro that ensued ended with a pleasing flourish.

Interaction between the players was first class, led on this occasion by Daniel Sepec, and the Arcanto made much of Haydn’s unexpectedly rich harmonic language in the Adagio. A crisp, sprightly Minuet followed, with the question-answer format of its Trio coming off particularly well, and then the deceptive finale, opening along the lines of a ‘theme and variations’ but suddenly upping the pace. At times the texture felt too full, but the musicians arrived at the virtuoso finish with plenty in hand.

Intense points of colour characterised Webern’s Six Bagatelles, registering barely five minutes but with their profound melodic fragments and textural invention making quite a mark. The musicians were at one in their interpretation, Antje Weithaas now the leader, and the close intervals of the nocturnal Fifth Bagatelle were particularly searching. So concentrated was this performance it would have been good to have a repeat hearing.

The Ravel was characterised by a warm sound from the first notes, the sweet tone of Weithaas’s violin combining well with Tabea Zimmermann’s altogether softer-grained viola. The full-bodied climaxes were almost orchestral in their impact, and, as elsewhere, a bold choice of tempo found the music zipping along.

The pizzicato of the second movement was sharply defined and the ghostly transition from the central section back to these particularly well executed, while the slow movement featured an almost savage interruption in its rhapsodic central section. The 5/8 with which the finale opens was strongly arresting and contrasted nicely with the lighter, bouncy second theme, the quartet building up to a show-stopping end.

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