Razumovsky Ensemble – Beethoven & Bruckner String Quintets

String Quintet in C, Op.29
String Quintet in F

Razumovsky Ensemble [Winfried Rademacher & David Alberman (violins), Krysztof Chorzelski & Alexander Zemtsov (violas), Oleg Kagan (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 18 January, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Mixed ensembles focussing on a diverse chamber repertoire are not uncommonthese days, but Oleg Kagan’s conception of the Razumovsky Ensemble – that ofa regular pool of musicians which varies between concerts and so can coverthe full extent of the genre – is a practicable and worthwhile one.

It was demonstrated here in this coupling of two string quintets from (almost) either end of the nineteenth-century. Beethoven’s sole originalexample (1801) was likely composed as a follow-up to his Opus 18 set of string quartets, but in its relatively expansive formal design andexpressive sweep, it looks more intently towards the full onset of his’middle period’. The Razumovsky members had the measure of the Allegro moderato’seasy momentum and melodic felicity, with the Adagio’s rapt emotion and the scherzo’s often-acerbic humour equally well captured. Nor was the finale’s coursing energy at all undersold, its formal unpredictability opening-outwhat might otherwise have been a Haydnesque sprint to the finish.

LeaderWinfried Rademacher’s intonational lapses were a passing detraction, but thequality and responsiveness of the ensemble to this neglected gem wereotherwise not in doubt.

The subsequent history of the medium is one of opportunities either missedor avoided – making it the more surprising that Bruckner should have chosenit to essay his one mature contribution to the chamber genre. That work(1879) is of interest not least for its context in his output, coming at theclose of the decade that saw the emergence of four symphonies (numbers 2-5) – all of which are alluded to during its course – while its formal directnessand order of movements anticipate aspects of the four that were to follow.

As so often with Bruckner, the Adagio is the heart of the matter – here anintense, though never sombre threnody making notably resourceful use of thetwo-viola complement.

The Razumovsky musicians had the measure of its contemplative rapture (something thatthe transcription for string orchestra inevitably loses out on), while thepreceding scherzo lacked nothing in deftness of spirit and rhythmic poise.

The outer movements were rather more problematic – mainly because the players too often seemed to be ‘ghosting’ the music’s formal unfoldingrather than investing it with the purpose needed to sustain what, in thefirst movement, is a rigorous sonata-design whose coda fails to clinch thematter when rendered so matter-of-factly; and, in the finale, a sonata-rondowhose compactness does seem short-winded if not dispatched with a cumulativeoverall intensity.

Throughout, however, the playing was of the highest standard, and if The performance evinced something of an interpretation ‘in progress’, then this can be no bad thing in the longer term; hopefully these musicianswill return to the piece. The next Razumovsky Ensemble appearance at Wigmore Hall on 5 February with music by Mozart, Beethoven andKraggerud.

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