Review: Arcanto Quartet, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 28

The Arcanto’s second concert began with Mozart’s A major String Quartet K 464, a substantial work and one that earned Beethoven’s admiration. There was much to appreciate in the performance, particularly the smooth interchange of themes between instruments and a judicious choice of tempi. However, the overall effect was rather homogeneous, even bland and although everything was in place there was little to raise the pulse.

Much of Webern’s music is thought-provoking, but at least one does not have to think for too long. After the easy sounds of Mozart, the opening violin harmonic and discordant piano entry injected a welcome note of asperity and the rest of the Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, crisply delivered by Daniel Sepec and Festival Director Pierre-Laurent Aimard, all managed to convey something within a small time-frame. The Three Pieces for Cello and Piano were played with equal commitment but seemed less convincing as music.

A work for two violas, with the accurate, if prosaic, title of Viola, Viola may well arouse curiosity, but not, perhaps, great expectation. Yet George Benjamin’s brilliant, original work sparked the audience into life and provided a rousing end to the first half. Antoine Tamestit and Tabea Zimmermann clearly loved the work and played it with such energy and conviction that, with its repeated chords, it suddenly resembled a mini Rite of Spring.

Brahms’ glorious G major sextet certainly does arouse high expectations, yet the early stages of the first movement sounded rather tentative and understated, needing a little more authority from first violin Antje Weithass. Once the first climax was reached the performance settled down and each movement provided treasures, a spirited, stomping Trio in the Scherzo and a rich, velvety ending to the slow movement in which cellos Olivier Marron and Jean-Guihen Queyras provided secure underpinning and melting melody. The nimble runs of the cheerful finale flew past like leaves in the wind and brought the work to a rousing conclusion and a deserved ovation.

Gareth Jones

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