Belcea Quartet at Wigmore Hall – Beethoven [Op.18/6, Serioso, Opus 127]

String Quartet in B flat, Op.18/6
String Quartet in F minor, Op.95 (Serioso)
String Quartet in E flat, Op.127

Belcea Quartet [Corina Belcea-Fisher & Axel Schacher (violins), Krzysztof Chorzelski (viola) & Antoine Lederlin (cello)]

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 1 December, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Belcea Quartet. Photograph: WildKatPRThis second Wigmore Hall visit in the Belcea Quartet’s touring Beethoven cycle proved to be as riveting as the first; the programme, mixing early, middle and late works as enlightening as ever. The last from Beethoven’s initial group of strings quartets (Opus 18) sat well with the powerfully direct ‘Serioso’, and concentration never dipped in the daringly extended Adagio of Opus 127, the first of the hallowed ‘late’ group. The brilliance of the Belcea Quartet in this music lies in the musicians’ absolute openness with the musical drama: it feels as though these works were written yesterday.

There need be no apologies for Beethoven’s Opus 18 string quartets, largely belonging to the era of Haydn. The Belcea musicians show these works to be cut from the later cloth; as inventive as their succeeding companions. With the slow and sorrowful introduction to the finale of the B flat from Opus 18, Beethoven takes us a great distance from what has preceded, before turning, almost flippantly, to a sunnier Allegretto. Corina Belcea-Fisher made the transition brilliantly. Small but crucial details such as this abounded in the performance. Each movement was exactly characterised but without fuzz: a playful and teasing first movement and an uneasy hesitancy of the Adagio.

The furious opening gesture of the ‘Serioso’ was relished and managed something more nuanced, though, by holding back slightly at the end of the unison phrase, presaging the duality of a work that flits between aggression and tense insecurity. As before, transitions were miraculous. In the bridge between the second and third movements, a ghostly suspense reigned, shattered by the charge into the scherzo which was quite shocking in its power.

Opus 127 is yet another exploration of the key of E flat, one of Beethoven’s favourites. Its opening is a declamation – block chords expressing definite unity. The Belcea Quartet’s sound was focused and blended. Belcea-Fisher is a leader of remarkable presence; Antoine Lederlin’s line rose above his colleagues in the long Adagio with a gorgeous singing tone and, in the scherzo, he and Krzysztof Chorzelski’s unison phrasing was breathtakingly poised. The back-and-forth of the scherzo became a spontaneous conversation. The Belcea Quartet is making these glorious works sound freshly minted.

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