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Snap and Crackle

The Artemis Quartet plays music by
Beethoven, Stravinsky and Schubert,
reported by BILL NEWMAN


This outstanding concert [Tuesday 20 May 2008 at London's Wigmore Hall] was supported by the members of the Rubinstein Circle as part of its tenth anniversary celebrations.

With the exception of the cellists, the performers stood. Beethoven's Quartet in C minor, Op 18 No 4 has been criticized in the first movement for orchestral or pianistic tendencies, broken octaves, shuddering tremolos and long series of full-blooded chords -- according to Misha Donat in his programme note. The second movement, Andante scherzoso quasi allegretto, is described as 'a translucent masterpiece' -- like the relating movement in the Symphony No 1 in C, while the third -- Menuetto: Allegretto, which has the reprise at a faster speed, might have qualified for the more usual title -- Scherzo -- instead. I admire his reasonings, but these do not influence my enormous liking for the work as a whole. I wonder, in the composer's case, whether this is all deliberate. The performance, like much Beethoven in the minor key was full of panache, snap and crackle.

Stravinsky's Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914) and Concertino (1920) were both performed by the Flonzaley Quartet, whose commercial recordings (other than the Schumann Piano Quintet with Gabrilowich) were, at one time, hard to track down. The Three Pieces -- following their later incorporation into a set of Four Studies for Orchestra, received the overall title Grotesques, which subdivides into 'Dance', 'Eccentric' and 'Canticle'. The central one depicts the artistry of Little Tich (stage name Harry Relph), the English music hall artist, and a relic of movie film shows him at his most persuasive in his enormous dancing shoes. Concertino seems to start in the opposite direction, is more richly scored, and includes a cadenza for violin that produces some argumentative comments from the other players. The work sounds more attractive than its predecessor but does quite measure up to the originality or ascerbic wit of the 1914 pieces. Both received compelling, near-authentic readings.

I should not forget to mention that 1st and 2nd violinists -- Gregor Sigl and Natalia Prishepenko -- changed places during the evening. With Prishepenko leading and David Geringer standing in for an indisposed Truls Mork, Schubert's masterly Quintet took pride of place, complete with first movement repeat. A reading of considerable grace and sweetness (never overdone) it was quite outstanding. Perhaps the turbulent swirling section for second cello at the centerpoint of the Adagio did not quite have the prominent forcefulness of William Pleeth, but the musicality throughout was spellbinding.

Copyright © 27 August 2008 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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