String Quartet in F minor, Op.95 (Serioso)
String Quartet in C, Op.59/3 (Razumovsky)
Artemis Quartet [Natalia Prishepenko & Heime Muller (violins), Volker Jacobsen (viola) & Eckart Runge (cello)]
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 17 May, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The Artemis Quartet is currently halfway through a recorded cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets for Virgin Classics, and has already committed the two works in this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert to disc. Yet there was no trace of over-familiarity here – rather, the opposite was the case, as two extremely well-drilled accounts were given with tenacity and flair.
The ‘Serioso’ was out of the blocks at quite a rate, with the opening motif thrashed out at great speed, a first movement rich in drama, the frenzied unisons marking the important structural gate-posts. The scherzo, too, was fast and furious, with Natalia Prishepenko’s soaring violin melody featuring prominently, coming as it did after a relaxed slow movement where the musicians all used a relatively wide vibrato.
Beethoven’s C major ‘Razumovsky’ Quartet is his most classical, paying homage to Mozart’s ‘Dissonance’ Quartet. The Artemis players brought out the mystery of the opening chords – their harmonic ambiguity – until they arrived at the genial subject of the first movement. The sound was bright, intonation spot-less, and the counterpoint – a prominent feature in this work – was easy to follow.
The slow movement was emotionally affecting, its more Slavonic air casting melancholy in the upper instruments, with Eckart Runge supplying a pronounced pizzicato to keep the sense of a slow dance. The Minuet was graceful, as marked, but the real excitement came with the announcement of the fugue for the finale, the pace white-hot and the momentum gaining pace as Beethoven introduced the extra counter-melodies. The Artemis Quartet played as one, so that even in the furious tremolandos of the closing bars they were able to finish with a unison sweep, bringing the work to its triumphant conclusion.