Arcanto serve up interesting musical diet

Arcanto Quartet, Britten, Webern, Brahms, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape, June 18

For their second concert at this year’s festival the Arcanto Quartet provided an interesting diet of Britten, Webern and Brahms. Britten’s second quartet, written in the busy and successful (Peter Grimes) year of 1945 has not fully entered the repertory, possibly due a degree of severity in some of the writing, technically accomplished of course, but lacking in warmth. The players negotiated the increasing tension of the first movement very effectively but seemed to hold back slightly in the hard-driven second movement so that its full impact was not quite achieved. The substantial finale had real emotional fervour, underpinned by strong tone and secure intonation.

Webern’s Six Bagatelles have become a byword for aphoristic expression, yet their fleeting appearances continue to leave an impression. Despite competition from a heavy shower the muted harmonics, ghostly glissandi and extreme decrescendos all registered impeccably.

After the evanescence of Webern, enter the solid certainties of Brahms and the last and most extrovert of his three quartets. Beginning with a hunt-like call in 6/8 time the music is soon rocking as it wrestles with a competing theme in 3/4. The movement probably required a touch more brio and the second subject seemed a little slow.

The slow movement was well shaped, with a consistently beautiful tone and the noble tune flowed serenely. Tabea Zimmermann played superbly in the viola dominated third movement, the sinuous musical lines demonstrating the instrument at its most beguiling and effective. All four performers at the apex of insight and cooperation – this was the very essence of chamber music. The somewhat cerebral and complex finale was skilfully steered towards the ending and as Brahms coalesced the opening theme of the quartet into the closing bars so one felt a satisfying synopsis of the concert as a whole.

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Gareth Jones

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