String Quartet No.2
Quintet for piano and strings in A, D667 (Trout)
Belcea Quartet [Corina Belcea & Laura Samuel (violins); Krzysztof Chorzelski (viola) & Alasdair Tait (cello)]
Thomas Adès (piano)
Corin Long (double bass)
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 5 June, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Bartók wrote his Second Quartet simultaneously with his ballet The Wooden Prince. He had already written Bluebeard’s Castle and was soon to start on The Miraculous Mandarin. The work is in three movements (Moderato – Allegro molto capriccioso – Largo). As you see, it ends with the slowest movement. In describing the quartet, commentators tend to lick their lips over the word ‘bleak’.
And, certainly, from the Belcea, Bartók’s quartet was a pretty bleak business. The opening bars – which the cello begins and violins join in almost at once – were lovingly bleak and spare. Alasdair Tait pressed into his lower strings and Corina Belcea leaned her head into the chin rest of her violin. With great finesse they produced sounds that were not only bleak but also broken – a collection of pointed, angular shards. There is more tenderness to find in this first movement – with no loss to integrity or severity.
The Belcea played the second movement fast and precisely, gritting their collective teeth. The result was abrasive and harsh, unremitting, yet without abandon – and not particularly Hungarian. The musicians ended the movement with splendid panache, though, and had the measure of the Lento. There were many fine moments of considerable sonic care, particularly the dialogues and sections of solemn counterpoint. The ending was exemplary.
Thomas Adès’s Piano Quintet shone rather self-consciously and metallically. The repeated device of prefacing some not particularly searching astringency with a snatch of melody became studied. Juxtaposing it with the Bartók was an unfortunate move. Where Bartók illuminated the depth, emotional range and skill in easing gracefully into the multitudinous variations and sonic ornamentation of the ‘string quartet’ medium, Adès’s shiny warmth for the ‘piano quintet’ ensemble glittered shallowly, as if spray polish had only recently passed by. And I so admired the latest CD of his music!
I thoroughly enjoyed the Trout, though. It would be churlish and jaded not to. The music is virtually fail-safe. In its charming and ungainly way, it is the epitome of domestic music-making. Fancies came to mind as I realised that the three Belcea members, Thomas Adès and Corin Long were so obviously enjoying themselves. This was a memorable performance. Who cares that it did not probe Schubert’s darker side? Up on the Wigmore Hall’s platform an uproarious performance of this perennial delight was taking place, among friends. Their glee was infectious.