String Quartet in E minor, Op.121
String Quartet in A, Op.41/3
Meta4 [Antti Tikkanen & Minna Pensola (violins), Atte Kilpeläinen (viola) & Tomas Djupsjöbacka (cello)]
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 19 March, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Fauré’s sole String Quartet, his last published work in the year of his death, 1924, was also his first piece of chamber music not to feature the piano. It is an appropriate signing-off, conceived as if in one breath; its melodies intertwining in what is often-seamless counterpoint. This can on a first listen be difficult for the ear to fully appreciate, but subsequent hearings reveal each layer of the tapestry. In this BBC Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall, Finnish string-quartet Meta4 gave an instinctive performance that spoke of the work’s intimacy, and did well to keep the fluidity of the piece fully intact. The four musicians performed in close proximity, the cello the only member seated, and the passing of each melodic phrase from one instrument to the other was smooth but not over-polished. The attack was relatively soft throughout, especially in the central Andante, which features a long and gradual crescendo through its sustained phrases. Balancing the four instruments was a significant element of this performance, Meta4 achieving a satisfying compromise. In a work that belies its ultimate serenity by giving the performers much to do, this was a performance that gave it room to breathe.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the interpretation of the Schumann – some good ideas but marred by the sound. Too often the attack of bow-on-string was initially gentle before ‘pushing through’ the note, creating a swell in the middle of each note and a value longer than its true length. This was distracting and proved disruptive to the sound quality of each phrase, getting in the way of Schumann’s rhythmic ingenuity. Only in the faster, more detached music was this not an issue, with the perky last movement the most successful of the four, with some tasteful ornamentation applied to the second theme in particular. In the scherzo there was greater clarity, but with the onset of the trio the problem returned. The slow movement, one of Schumann’s most inventive in its abrupt changes of mood and harmonic direction, suffered most when at a quiet dynamic, though once louder an impressive heft was given to the sound. Ultimately, this performance made it difficult to warm to Schumann’s formal invention and experimentation, and felt like an opportunity missed.