A less than capacity audience attended the
HHH Concert at St Christopher’s Church, Haslemere, last Saturday to hear the
outstanding Arcadia Quartet. Perhaps
this was because of the weather, or the threat of even more hostile weather to
come, but whatever the reason those who stayed away missed a rare treat. From the opening bars of the first piece on
offer, Beethoven’s String Quartet in B flat major Op 18 No 6, it was evident
that these accomplished young Romanian musicians would provide an evening of
confident, engaged and sometimes breath-taking music.
Beethoven wrote his Op. 18 quartets between
1788 and 1800 and dedicated them to Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian
Lobkowitz. No-one can be sure exactly
in what order they were written although it is most unlikely that they were composed
in the order they were published. No. 6
is firmly rooted in the 18th-century and is a most charming
work. Ana Török, the Arcadia’s leader,
set a brisk pace in the first movement – the ensemble’s tempi in general tended
towards the fast side – but with great assurance and understanding. The second movement, marked Adagio ma non troppo, was played with
great delicacy and feeling. The Scherzo, with its complex and very
difficult syncopation was deftly handled and the Arcadia fully explored its wide
dynamic range. Beethoven marked the
introduction to the final movement La
Malinconia and directed that it should be played with the greatest
delicacy. The Arcadia observed this
direction faithfully but when finally released from the sombre opening, drove
into the rondo with terrific verve and concluded with an exciting prestissimo coda. Altogether a very fine performance. If there is one very slight niggardly
criticism, it is that Zsolt Török’s cello was a little prominent in some of the
accompanying passages, perhaps due to him directly facing the audience rather than
the leader as is often the practice.
The Beethoven was followed by a very
different piece, Janáček’s String Quartet No. 2. – Intimate Letters. In his
later years Janáček fell ardently in love with Kamila Stösslová who was married
and thirty eight years his junior.
Whether the relationship was physical or simply “spiritual” (as claimed
by the composer) and whether the passion was reciprocated, no-one can be sure,
but the composer is believed to have exchanged more than 700 love letters with
Kamila on which this quartet is based.
It is a restless piece with little development of the numerous themes
introduced; at once frenzied and tender, spirited and soulful. The viola, representing Kamila, has a
prominent role and the Arcadia’s violist, Traian Boatâ, produced some
delightfully moving moments, such as in the solo introduction to the third
movement. The Arcadia seemed thoroughly
at home with this music and gave us a superbly enjoyable performance.
Debussy’s only string quartet, in G minor,
Op.10, completed the advertised programme.
It is an early work, published in 1893, and was rather baffling for the
first listeners. It owes much in style
to Debussy’s teacher, Franck, but it also distinctly points to the
revolutionary symbolist sound-world Debussy was about to enter (his next
composition was L’Apres-midi d’un
faune). The Arcadia Quartet again established a brisk
pace in the first movement (marked Animé)
whilst maintaining perfect ensemble.
Perhaps the most moving music of the whole evening came in the third
movement of this work in which the opening poignant motif is introduced by the
first violin and passed around the quartet.
This was music-making of the highest order.
Appropriately, the concert ended with a
lively encore of Romanian Dances by Bartok, written for piano and transcribed
for string quartet.
It seems there is no limit to the talented
young musicians that HHH attracts. Next
up are the Ellipsis Wind Quintet on Saturday 23rd November. Tickets from 01428 652448 or Chamberlain Music. Not to be missed.