String Quartet No.4 in D, Op.83
String Quartet No.16 in F, Op.135
Meta4 [Antti Tikkanen & Minna Pensola (violins), Atte Kilpeläinen (viola) & Tomas Djupsjöbacka (cello)]
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 14 September, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Meta4, from Finland, began the latest series of BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts at Wigmore Hall with the Fourth Quartet of Dmitri Shostakovich, a work that continued his increasing mastery of the medium but which lay unperformed until nine months after the death of Joseph Stalin. As David Fanning explained in his illuminating programme note, this was more than likely due to a prominence of Jewish-Klezmer themes, used in the outer movements.
In this performance each melodic thread was carefully interwoven over the opening cello drone, each instrument pointing the way with selective vibrato. This was worked through to an impressive climax, after which something more pensive and uncertain emerged, the composer’s elusive use of tonality nicely captured. Fastidious attention to dynamic markings also helped, with a softly voiced Allegretto that rarely peaked above pianissimo, but which was still extremely well phrased, moving restlessly from one melodic figure to another. The slow movement also exhibited unresolved tension with short, wiry recitative passages from Antti Tikkanen doing little to quell the edgy mood. The cold, chorale-like closing passages were warmed only briefly by carefully applied vibrato to lead us into the finale. Here a more affirmative mood prevailed, though the delicately traced coda indicated further enigma.
There are recitatives and drones of sorts in Beethoven’s final string quartet, in which the four musicians enjoyed extremes of tempos and once again took a meticulous approach to dynamics and phrasing. In the stop-start finale, its question and answer phrases running harmonically and melodically against each other, forward momentum was sometimes compromised by heavily applied bowing. However the dramatic effect of this was keen; the dissonance in each Grave passage reigning-in the faster music with increasing acidity, rubato used as the score instructs. The scherzo whizzed past in a flurry of activity, the sforzando at the end of the movement summing it up perfectly. It was however the tender Theme and Variations slow movement that was the heart of this performance, contemplatively exploring darker colours and consoling beautifully at the end.