Aldeburgh Festival: Belcea Quartet

The Belcea Quartet is the very devil of chamber ensembles to review. The reason for that is simple; they are just too good. It would be gratifying, if only for me to try out some unaccustomed adjectives on them or to chide myself and others for our hellishly demanding expectations, if they slipped up occasionally. But they never seem to falter.

Belcea Quartet, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 14

The Belcea Quartet is the very devil of chamber ensembles to review. The reason for that is simple; they are just too good.

It would be gratifying, if only for me to try out some unaccustomed adjectives on them or to chide myself and others for our hellishly demanding expectations, if they slipped up occasionally. But they never seem to falter.

Needless to say, they didn't this time around either. They had constructed an exquisitely balanced programme: an early Thomas Ades, a middle period Beethoven and the penultimate work of Britten.


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What is so engrossing about their playing is how they marry a full-on playing style with a forensic examination of each piece. They are flamboyant seekers after musical truths. They expressed a troubling and eerie soundscape throughout Ades' Arcadiana producing pristine expressions of the piece's various musical references and homages.

Beethoven's String Quartet Op.59 No.1 was the first in the series commissioned by Russian nobleman, Andreas Razumovsky and although now pretty familiar to audiences was a revolutionary piece in its time - not least because of its length and development. The Belceas managed to convey some of that explosive and shocking energy - especially in the skittish and excitable second movement.

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The contrast between that piece and Britten's almost valedictory String Quartet No.3, Op.94 could not be more definite. The Quartet was straight on the button from the hesitant and sparely articulated opening notes in the moderato evoking a crepuscular world stripped of colour and light. Their insights and understanding of the work were constant and evocative - ending in playing of the utmost tenderness in the dying fifth movement.

A nearly full Snape Maltings audience was understandably awestruck by the emotional volume of this whole performance. There was one demon, though. Cellist Antoine Lederlin suffered the frustration of a broken string part way through the Ades. Yet, we were already so entranced by what we were hearing that our enjoyment was merely delayed and not at all marred.

Paul Simon (Picture: Sheila Rock, EMI Classics)

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