Friends of Chamber Music

Vertavo Quartet

Mozart Quartet in B flat Major K 458 ("The Hunt") Bartók Quartet No. 4 Grieg Quartet in G Major, Op. 27

Violin Øyvor Volle Violin Berit Cardas Viola Henninge Landaas Cello Bjørg Værnes

Reviewer J H Stape

After a two months' hiatus, the Friends of Chamber Music's 2006-07 season has at last revived, chasing away the winter blahs with a sparkling performance of a challenging and diverse repertoire by Oslo's all-women Vertavo Quartet. The varied programme, ranging from Mozart to the Modern to the Post-Romantic, gave the group (established in 1984) ample opportunity to demonstrate the full range of its technical and interpretive skills. And these proved to be of a dizzyingly high order.

Bartók's five-movement Quartet No. 4 was the evening's technical Everest, while Grieg, played with special authority by these Norwegians, proved to be its vivid emotional centre. Mozart's "Hunt" Quartet," with its chirpy opening movement and closing with an appeal to homey, domestic themes stood in ably for the warm-up. From the outset, the Vertavo showed off an "open" sound with a rich finish, working its way through the music with flair.

Self-assured playing in the signally charming Allegro vivace first movement of Mozart's "Hunt" Quartet set a benchmark, with the stately and straight laced Menuetto, with its touches of wry humour, also given an elegant reading. The Adagio, dark but not sombre, drew out delicately nuanced playing, the first violin more in balance than in the first movement when it was only a shade forward. The contrasting Allegro assai close, of playful character colliding with extreme solemnity, positively glowed.

The plunge into Bartók's soundscape came so suddenly as to be almost disconcerting, the angry and impassioned opening announcing that demands for players and listeners were to come. An exploration of the Modernist palette, this brittle, edgy work is characterized by unremitting restlessness, and the Vertavo's execution rose to the large challenges of the writing. Easily running through the rapid shifts of dynamics and tempi, the Vertavo showed off its complete mastery of Modernist idiom. The Prestissimo movement, a technical tour de force, was, as it were, a Dali painting set to music, whilst the Allegro pizzicato demanded the precision of a Rolex. Harsh, thrilling and dark, this immensely appealing work came to a brilliant close in fragments and sighs.

After the very welcome intermission, the Quartet went on to show off its credentials in the Late Romantic repertoire with Grieg's intensely lyrical Quartet No. 1. Soulful and with moments of haunting beauty, this work of melodic inspiration received a singularly compelling reading, its Nordic soul warm and plangent. The Quartet brilliantly brought out the work's almost symphonic yearnings, and captured, with conviction, the piece's singing character. With dizzying shifts in dynamics and an emphasis on sharp contrasts, this in its own fashion was as challenging as the riotous Bartók that had preceded it.

The Vertavo's choice of repertoire, fine rendering of it, and elegant, smooth playing conquered from the opening notes. This was ultimately an evening less emphasizing the shazamm factor, though it was surely present, than of a cozy and comforting curl up-in front of a warm, glowing fire: smouldering intensity was the order of the night.

© 2007 J H Stape