Friends of Chamber Music

Philharmonia Quartett Berlin

1st Violin: Daniel Stabrawa 2nd Violin: Christian Stadelmann Cello: Jan Diesselhorst Viola: Neithard Resa

Venue: Vancouver Playhouse Date: 11 March 2003 at 20.00

Mozart: String Quartet No. 14 in G Major, K. 387 Erwin Schulhoff: Quartet No. 1 (1924) Beethoven: String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Op. 130

Reviewer: J. H. Stape

Utter perfection can at times be a cold thing, but not for a second was this the case in the brilliant concert offered by the Philharmonia Quartett Berlin in the Friends of Chamber Music Tuesday night series. Regarded as one of the finest string quartets on the concert scene, the Quartett's appearance amply demonstrated precisely how it secured its high reputation: dazzling technical expertise, interpretative depth, searing intelligence, and a warm, vintage-port sound combine to offer music-making of the kind that makes superlatives limp and wan.

Nimbleness and authority were in full display from the concert's opening. Mozart's String Quartet No. 14 in G Major, a poised and equably tempered piece, elicited delicately shaped and careful playing and precision without austerity or academicism. A quartet of serious joyfulness, the highlight here was possibly the andante cantabile movement, hauntingly beautiful music played with caressing and reverential care and thorough attention to the smallest detail--the Teutonic tradition at its most convincing and triumphant.

The Quartet No. 1 (1924) by Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), a victim of the Nazi terror, was a novelty and a revelation. From its brutally demanding presto con fuoco--played with flames shooting--to the intensely meditative andante that closes it, this revolutionary quartet received a treatment that surely cannot be bettered or even matched. The word "definitive" is too often bandied about, but this was an occasion of that kind. By turns energetic and moody, playful in its breakneck dance "alla Slovaca," and broodingly introspective in its final meditation on time and evanescence, this quartet was performed with brimming confidence and expressive sincerity of a rare order offering a wide variety of deeply emotional and intellectual pleasures.

As might be expected from the principal chairs of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Beethoven's String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major got a meticulously idiomatic and brightly musical rendition, a masterclass, as it were, in how to play in the Classical style. The quartet offers a bewildering array of challenges moving from the stately dignity of its adagio ma non troppo to jumpy playfulness in its teasing presto to a ruthlessly Germanic danza tedesca to a profoundly emotional cavatina and, at last, to the pyrotechnics and spellbinding originality of its concluding "Grosse Fugue." The last two movements, musical worlds in themselves, were given remarkable, simply spellbinding renditions. The cavatina spoke of immense sadness brightened by understanding and wisdom, and the Grosse Fugue, written only months before Beethoven's death, of a cheerfulness unwarranted by the the human condition.

As this concert amply demonstrated, The Friends of Chamber Music series consistently delivers Vancouver some of the best music and best playing to be had in any concert hall, and its capacity audiences are certain proof of things done right. If you don't have one, take out a subscription--today!

© 2003, J. H. Stape