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Simplicity and Eloquence

Quatuor Ebène plays Haydn,
Webern and Schubert,
reviewed by BILL NEWMAN


This [Saturday 17 May 2008 at Wigmore Hall, London] was the first of two outstanding chamber concerts with Schubert as the main composer. The complete programme: Haydn's Quartet in G minor Op 74 No 4, 'Rider', Webern's 6 Bagatelles Op 9 (1911, 1913), Slow movement (1905), and Schubert's Quartet in D minor, D810, 'Death and the Maiden'.

These four remarkable young musicians carried off all the prizes -- first place, including audience and best interpretation -- for the Karl Klinger Foundation at the 2004 ARD Competition in Munich, Fondation Groupe Populaire Award and the Belmont Prize for Contemporary Music (Forberg-Schneider Foundation). With the support of the Borletti-Butoni Trust they enjoyed associations with a prestigious circle of artists and slotted naturally into the BBC's Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme.

In performance, they appear to be perfectly natural and unaffected, but their spontaneity and minute attention to every musical detail, which involves impeccable ensemble and full attention to each composer's style and range of dynamics makes an immediate impression. Haydn's Opus 74 Quartets, written for Count Johann Georg Apponyi in 1793, of which No 3 is a case in point, are typical of his penchant for rich melody, accents, the element of surprise (in the second movement) and the unusual introductory settings that precede the subject matter. A remarkable quality of their interpretation is the cleanness and precision of attack.

Two Webern pieces also made a vivid impression: 6 Bagatelles are notable for their concise brevity and extremity of dynamics. Schoenberg, his teacher spoke of 'every glance that can be stretched out into a poem, every sigh into a novel. But to express a novel in a single gesture, a joy in a breath -- such concentration, can be found only where a proportionate amount of self-pity is lacking.' This is one of several works influenced by the death of Webern's mother. The earlier slow movement concerns his love for his cousin Wilhelmine, whom he eventually married. One of a number of 'romantic' tonal compositions, the work overflows with love from its inception. Although described as abstract, the sectional counterparts connect to form a mosaic of gorgeous sounds that predate the composer's later, more mature works.

The overall quality of interpretation behind Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet was its gentle nuance and feeling of quietness that contrasted with the on-going passages of drama and unsettling rhythmic surges of despair boiling over at the thought of an early demise. This was a riveting performance of simplicity and eloquence combined.

Copyright © 27 August 2008 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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