Review: Brahms and Viennese Schools, Belcea Quartet, Snape, May 15

Belcea Quartet; Snape Maltings

Belcea Quartet; Snape Maltings - Credit: Archant

The Belcea’s cycle concluded on Friday with a changed programme that grew, in all senses, to a stunning performance of one of the peaks of the second Viennese School, Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht.

The evening began with Beethoven’s fine C minor string trio opus 9, full of the composer’s early fire and invention. Axel Schacher, second violin in the quartet, played with assurance and polish and Krzysztof Chorzelski and Antoine Lederlin added layers of rich sonority to the ornate writing in the slow movement.

Brahms’ final quartet is in a much lighter vein than his earlier op 51 works. The players immediately established the high spirits of the opening bars and the momentum was sustained until the final chord of the movement. Corina Belcea’s tone was perfectly attuned to the sonorous Andante and Chorzelski delivered a captivating and sinuous viola line in the engaging third movement.

Stage numbers rose from three to four to six in the second half where the quartet was joined by Nicolas Bone and Antonio Meneses on viola and cello respectively.

Verklarte Nacht is based on a poem by Richard Dehmel, the subject centred on a pair of lovers walking through a moonlit wood. The woman confesses that she is pregnant with another man’s child but her companion believes that the unborn child will be transfigured into his and the couple are reconciled.

In many ways it is the texture of the music, rather than the thematic content that is the most striking and one is frequently confronted by what might be described as washes of sound, colours blazing through and fading away. Schoenberg himself was no mean artist and here there is a very remarkable fusion of art and music, colour and sound.

Bone set the work in motion with calm deliberate steps but the tension soon increased and the tempo changes that reflected the varying emotional intensities were negotiated with supreme intelligence and skill. Belcea produced a luscious and seductive sound at the top and Meneses some beautifully controlled oscillating arpeggios that added to magical atmosphere. It was a delicious performance to conclude a most rewarding evening.

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Gareth Jones