String Quartet in F, Op.59/1 (Razumovsky)
Belcea Quartet [Corina Belcea & Axel Schacher (violins), Krzysztof Chorzelski (viola) & Antoine Lederlin (cello)]
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 24 March, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The Belcea Quartet has been touring its Beethoven cycle for several years, and the musicians’ deep understanding of this repertoire showed in this compelling account of the First ‘Razumovsky’, the main work of this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall.
That the performance clocked in at just over 43 minutes reflects the expansive tempos, particularly in the Adagio, the profound centrepiece of the work. This was at times a harrowing experience, the mournful tones of Corina Belcea’s violin speaking of the composer’s sorrow (his sketches for this movement were inscribed “A weeping willow or acacia tree on my brother’s grave”). The textures were extremely bare at times, the players operating with minimal vibrato. Only the cello of Antoine Lederlin offered a few shafts of sunlight.
Lederlin it was who led off the first movement with its bright main theme, the musicians unpicking the detail within. The capricious scherzo received a remarkable performance, looking forward to Beethoven’s later period with its fragmentary motifs, dissected and very carefully examined. They players took just as much care over the overall structure, despite the composer’s free-spirited writing. The Russian tune that dominates the finale was elusive at times, assertive at the outset but clouded by sorrowful reminders of the Adagio, and beautifully hung-onto by the musicians, before they finally casting it aside in a thrilling drive to the close.
Before the Beethoven, Webern’s Langsamer Satz, an outpouring of deep emotion for his cousin and which received a serene reading. This is the final example of heady Romanticism in the composer’s music, before he went on a different, if influential, artistic journey, beginning with his Opus 1 Passacaglia (for orchestra). Here the Belcea Quartet was careful to keep a soft dynamic, but the surges of feeling reflected the circumstances of the composition. The tender themes for cello and viola were given in a half-light towards the end, the ensemble’s overall sound a ravishing reflection of what is in effect chamber-sized Mahler.