String Quartet in F minor, Op.95 (Serioso)
Pacifica Quartet [Simin Ganatra & Sibbi Bernhardsson (violins), Masumi Per Rostad (viola) & Brandon Vamos (cello)]
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 30 November, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
After their cracking recital the previous evening, the members of the Pacifica Quartet returned with what was among the more demanding of the Wigmore Hall’s “Coffee Concerts”. That said, Beethoven’s F minor Quartet is always a good piece with which to blow away any Sunday-morning cobwebs. Without favouring the all-out attack often favoured in this piece nowadays, the Pacifica underlined the coiled intensity of the opening Allegro, then effortlessly balancing easefulness and anxiety in a slow movement whose equivocation extends to its heading. Not so a scherzo which lacked nothing in incisiveness, or a finale whose slow introduction is no less predictable than the major-key coda with which Beethoven turns the emotional trajectory of the piece on its head, and which was headily brought off here.
In its abrupt contrasts of mood and motion, moreover, the ‘Serioso’ is an admirable foil for Berg’s Lyric Suite (1926). The fundamental requirement here is to further expressive momentum such that each pair of movements is an intensification of that preceding it. In the even-numbered movements, the Pacifica left just a little to be desired: the ‘Allegretto giovale’ was artlessly done, but the ‘Allegro misterioso’ (though not its ‘Trio estatico’) seemed a little unfocussed, while the ‘Presto deliriando’ (but not its ‘Tenebroso’ sections) was slightly under-powered. That said, the odd-numbered movements were superbly done – the sensuous yearning of the ‘Andante amoroso’ complemented by the febrile emotion of the ‘Adagio appassionato’, before the resigned fulfilment of the ‘Largo desolato’.
Once again, the quality of playing confirmed the Pacifica Quartet’s eminence among the such ensembles of the present era. Hopefully these musicians will soon commit the Berg to disc, and one looks forward also to further instalments in their Beethoven cycle, which seems to be a long-term feature of their visits to London.