Concert Review

Hartmann, Haydn & Schumann: Zehetmair Quartet, Wigmore Hall, 22 March 2000

This string quartet, making its London debut, grabbed the attention with bold attack and huge collective tone, seemingly intended for a much larger concert hall. Their recital was broadcast live by BBC Radio 3 and has won praise from reputable quarters. I have reservations.

They play without music (as did the original Janacek Quartet) and it is good neither to have to look past music stands, which can block viewing, nor worry about page turning. Having memorised their repertoire, they are freer to communicate with each other and with us. So far so good. If Haydn's Op 74 No 1 quartet burst upon us with unwonted fire and energy, well, it was composed for public performance at Salomon's concert hall, with a brilliant first violin part for Salomon himself. But the wiry, metallic tone of the leader's E string was disconcerting, and continued to jar through the evening. (Thomas Zehetmair is a noted virtuoso, and I remember well his race through three Bach solo Partitas at Barcelona, which had underwhelmed me.)

Karl Amadeus Hartmann's 2nd String Quartet was welcome, an undeserved rarity this side of the Channel from that important symphonist, who remained a reclusive, 'internal exile' in Munich after 1936, forbidding performances of his music by way of protest against the Nazi regime. (I have long treasured my LP box of the Hartmann symphonies - Kubelik/Bayerische Rundfunk Orch., with Fischer-Dieskau; reissued on CD Wergo 600187-50.) This quartet of 1945-46 is atonal and eventful, with a high velocity rhythmic finale, which was repeated as an encore, after Schumann's more domesticated Quartet Op 41 no 2, which I enjoyed for its less assertive stance, though it was an odd choice to end with.

Peter Grahame Woolf


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