Friends of Chamber Music

The Belcea Quartet

Date and Venue 29 January 2008 @ 20.00 | Vancouver Playhouse

Schubert String Quartet No.12 in C minor, D703 (Quartettsatz) Beethoven String Quartet No.12 in E flat major, Op. 127 Schubert String Quartet No.15 in G, D887

Violin Corina Belcea-Fisher Violin Laura Samuel Viola Krzysztof Chorzelski Cello Antoine Lederlin

Reviewer J H Stape

Established at The Royal College of Music in 1994, the Belcea is a veritable youngster on the quartet scene, but one with impressive credentials including, in addition to worldwide concertizing, an exclusive recording contract with EMI. The quartet has a serious interest in contemporary music, but chose to display its Classical side at this first FCM concert of 2008, concentrating on music written during a single decade: the 1820s.

Balance proved, indeed, to be one of the evening's hallmarks, the Quartet emphasizing ensemble work throughout, with the first violinist a real team player (not something that always happens with "younger groups" where the prima donna tendency often enough emerges and overwhelms).

Schubert's String Quartet No.12 in C minor, Quartettsatz (1820), a single movement marked Allegro assai is a ten-minute plunge into emotional intensity, although its opening nervous character rapidly transforms into more flowing motifs that nonetheless remain exploratory and tentative. The playing in this bold opening piece was deft and precise, and a dark smokey sound prevailed, with finesse and elegance amply on display.

Beethoven's String Quartet No.12, Op. 127 (1825) is not territory for the faint of heart, the late quartets representing a summum of musical achievement and demanding heightened concentration from both players and listeners alike from its short opening Maestoso to its presto Finale.

The first brief movement of this masterwork elicited bright, forward playing and a strong cantabile line amidst the sudden flashes of fire. The heartbreakingly beautiful second movement Adagio emphasizes serenity and introspection.

Serious without being melancholy, this music of extreme beauty demands -- and received -- a tightly disciplined reading to bring out its emotional depths and complexities, just as the contrasting Scherzando vivace calls suppleness, arch rather than full-blown playfulness, and even a bit of risk-taking. More open than the scherzo movement was the Finale whose tempo is up to the players. The Belcea shirked not, opting for a fast but not frenetic pace and bringing this magical quartet of immense depth and great colour to a pleasing conclusion.

Schubert's last string quartet, No.15 in G (1827), is nothing if not inventive and exploratory, rich and dense and of a highly original character. The Belcea brought a refined approach to it, and its many moods and several colours unfolded with breezy confidence.

The energetic first movement Allegro molto moderato quickly become the gentle tristesse and then the open-throated Stürm und Drang of the Andante. The third movement scherzo, cast as a Ländler, is a dance of rather more serious character than customary and with somewhat more dramatic flair, but almost overly-delicate and bodying forth a cautious equanimity rather than a real joie de vivre, which is held in reserve for the closing finale, marked Allegro assai. Burblingly happy, this movement's summery, Italianate character is all vivid and bold colours, coming off in the end in a Rossini-like burst of gioia in its mischievous playfulness.

The Belcea Quartet brought real and evident commitment to their work, brightly illuminated the masterworks they had selected, and shone throughout an evening that was an object lesson in fine ensemble playing.

© 2008 J H Stape