Royal String Quartet

String Quartet in B flat, K458 (Hunt)
String Quartet No.7, Op.108
String Quartet No.2, Op.68

Royal String Quartet [Isabella Szalaj-Zimak & Elwira Przybylowska (violins), Marek Czech (viola) & Michal Pepol (cello)]

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 31 July, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Having appeared in part of one of last year’s Proms Chamber Music recitals (accompanying Sir Thomas Allen in Barber’s “Dover Beach”), the Royal String Quartet from Warsaw – BBC Young Generation Artists and Borletti-Buetoni Trust recipients – returned to Cadogan Hall for a whole concert this year by bringing together birthday boys Mozart and Shostakovich along with the quartet’s Polish compatriot Karol Szymanowski.

Whatever its lithe response to Mozart’s fourth ‘Haydn’ Quartet that opened this recital – with the first movement’s theme nicely characterised – and its spiky explanation of Shostakovich’s most compact quartet, turning back to thoughts of his first wife after the split with his second, it was the Royal Quartet’s sure touch with the music of their homeland, in Szymanowski’s final, Second Quartet that really caught the ear.

Cellist Michal Pepol helped Stephanie Hughes introduce the Szymanowski, remarking that it is steeped in folk melodies, particularly those of the Tatras Mountains.

Szymanowski’s shimmering soundworld was a world away from Mozart’s sheer classicism and Shostakovich’s introverted and heartfelt memories. We perhaps would most liken it to Bartók or Janáček, from around the same time, but whatever the similarities, there are also significant differences, which transported the Cadogan Hall audience onto another plain.

There’s more Szymanowski this week, at big-sister venue the Royal Albert Hall on Friday, with another Pole Piotr Anderszewski playing the Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony No 4) and, building to the season’s climax, Frank Peter Zimmermann in the First Violin Concerto with Simon Rattle and Berliner Philharmoniker. Don’t miss either – and keep an eye out for the Royal String Quartet.

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