Cuarteto Casals at Wigmore Hall – Haydn, Kurtág & Bartók

String Quartet in C, Op.33/3 (The Bird)
Microludes, Op.13
String Quartet No.4

Cuarteto Casals [Vera Martínez & Abel Tomàs (violins), Jonathan Brown (viola) & Arnau Tomàs (cello)]

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 30 September, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Cuarteto Casals. Photograph: Felix BroedeThis BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall by Cuarteto Casals began with Haydn and his ‘Bird’, the nickname assigned to the third of his six string quartets that make up Opus 33. This particular winged creature glided in surprisingly smoothly, courtesy of the violin of Abel Tomàs, who pronounced his accents with a greater sense of flight in the second theme of the first movement. His overall projection was not always loud enough though, often operating at the same dynamic level as his colleagues. The Opus 33 set is the first where Haydn uses the term scherzo, but this one was well within itself, soft and subdued but with a perky trio section for the two violins. Cuarteto Casals imbued the Adagio with appealing warmth, while the finale was busy if perhaps not straining towards its Presto tempo indication.

Something in reserve had been saved for the Casals members’ performance of György Kurtág’s Microludes. With Vera Martinez restored to first-violin duties this was a commanding account, finding the utmost detail in even the shortest of the twelve movements. The spirits of Webern, J. S. Bach and Frescobaldi were briefly glimpsed, these three composers commemorated within the whole. The nerviness of the Second piece, the unnerving shift from consonance to dissonance of the Sixth and the brusque Eighth were three particularly memorable moments of an exceptionally disciplined performance. The audience followed suit, some visibly leaning in to hear every note.

Kurtág was but two years old when Bartók completed his String Quartet No.4. His elder countryman’s music continues to burn a fierce path of originality, especially in a performance of the type it received here. There is no room for shrinking violets in Bartók renditions. The musicians of Cuarteto Casals gave their all to the gritty unisons and forceful chords of the outer movements. This was in complete contrast to the tender vulnerability of the central slow movement, where cellist Arnau Tomàs was completely exposed in the despairing threnody. The two scherzos, placed second and fourth, were remarkable for their virtuosity, the first like rapid pencil scribbling that reveals an etching, the second with a wide spectrum of pizzicato colours. The outer movements carried much greater force and volume. The finale was a coarse dance, with the fullness of its sound approaching that of a small string orchestra before the emphatic ending.

Such music does not necessarily need an encore, but one was provided, the finale of Mozart’s G major String Quartet, K387.

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