E-flat, Op.1/2; G, Op.17/5; C, Op.54/2; F, Op.50/5 (The Dream)
Bennewitz Quartet [Jakub Fišer & Štěpán Ježek (violins), Jiří Pinkas (viola) & Štěpán Doležal (cello)]
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: 13 July, 2018
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The Bennewitz Quartet has a notably warm sound which makes exciting forte passages glow brightly. There is a unified quality to this ensemble and on the occasions where the leader had solo moments, his sound rose above the others because of colourful tone – not by mere loudness.
Haydn’s early Opus 1/2, notable for his use of pizzicato in the central Adagio, still shows signs of Baroque influence, particularly in the swift outer movements; the lively performance recognised this. One example was to play a repeated phrase more quietly the second time – an effect known to have been used at that period. In the two Minuets a space was put before and after each Trio – a subjective notion which was applied to all but one such example during the evening, nevertheless the ‘late’ entries were rhythmically in time and continuity was not compromised.
Opus 17/5 was composed a decade later and here the performance was more expressive. Well-chosen tempos moved the music firmly forward but Haydn wrote passages featuring solo violin – almost certainly for the benefit of the great Luigi Tomasini who led the orchestra at Eszterháza. The cadenza-like examples, both in the development section of the first movement and in the Adagio are, in this context, spectacular. Jakub Fišer was very flexible in speed yet the general flow of the music was not interrupted.
The tendency to soften the ending of a melody was not confined to the early Quartet and at the start of Opus 54/2 the brief double phrase was treated as statement and echo – an unusual and effective idea. The brief Adagio was interpreted in so sophisticated a manner that Beethoven in his later works came to mind. The attacca entry of the Minuet makes a striking effect and here the essential use of appoggiaturas in this much-ornamented movement illuminates the melody – the usual clipped acciaccatura approach never convinces. The Finale is extraordinary; a substantial slow movement leads to a wildly forceful Presto – played here at huge speed – only to end with a shorter version of the Adagio.
The lyrical Allegro moderato of Opus 50/5 is followed by a similarly rhapsodic Adagio which at a later time led the Quartet to acquire the title of ‘The Dream’ – once more the slow movement involves expressive moments from the leader. The well-paced Minuet then surged dramatically into the fierce Trio – no pause this time. A fiery Finale, including ideally hushed playing despite high speed, was followed by an encore of the greatest good humour in which the Bennewitz Quartet applied its elegant tone to the delightful last movement from Haydn’s Opus 33/2 which is cleverly contrived so that it is entirely unclear which is the final phrase.