Review: Belcea Quartet, Beethoven Cycle 5, Britten Studio, October 13

The fifth concert of the cycle paired the A major quartet from opus 18 alongside opus 130 with its original Grosse Fuge finale.

No other programme, perhaps, could demonstrate so conclusively the changes, indeed revolutions, that Beethoven brought about in his compositional career - not just to string quartets but to every facet of musical thought and expression.

The players immediately captured the graceful charm of the opening bars of op 18/5 and perfectly judged its Mozartian spirit. The middle two movements contain some delightful ideas and unexpected accents and everything came together under the quartet’s polished technique and interpretation.

Opus 130 with the fugal finale is the greatest single challenge for a quartet and energy needs to be kept in reserve for the final movement.

Not that there was any lack of it in the presto second movement which hurtled along with thrilling elan. The first movement held together particularly well, the slower sections seeming to add, rather than reduce, coherence and the great cavatina was as eloquent and moving as the composer himself found it.

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In the third and fourth movements there was perhaps, despite the elegance and fluency of the playing, a hint of the task ahead.

The fugue is one of Beethoven’s least approachable and comprehensible works for the listener, at times hard and unyielding on the ear and the fugue often hard to follow. For the players the intellectual and technical difficulties are also immense, the more so for coming after five demanding movements.

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They threw themselves at the opening chords with utter conviction and determination and the first section had a rugged, almost breathless, intensity. The calmer interlude was welcome (how must it have been for the players?) and the final flourish brought a fully deserved ovation.

Gareth Jones

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