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S&H Recital review

Quartetto Armonico, The Duke's Hall, Royal Academy of music, NW1, 16 October 2001 (SHJ)

Sayo Sugaya & Emi Ikuta violins
Natsuko Sakamoto viola
Ryo Kubota cello

Haydn String quartet in C major, op20 no2
Zemlinsky String quartet no4, op25
Schubert String Quartet in D minor, D810, Death and the Maiden

Quartetto Armonico is renowned as one of the most successful young Japanese groups of recent years. The ensemble is a laureate of several major competitions, including 2nd prize at Menuhin's London International (formally Portsmouth) competition. The performers - all in their late 20s - are graduates of Tokyo Geidai (the Tokyo National University of Fine arts and Music) and their recent London appearance as part of the Royal Academy of Music's Tokyo Geidei series did not disappoint. (Note: most of the series was sadly cancelled - see review of Davis/RAM/Beethoven Triple concerto - this was one of two concerts that went ahead.)

Haydn's String quartet in C major, op20 no2 was a crisp and intricately crafted affair. The many unexpected contrasts and immaculate interplay created real interest, and the rich, well-balanced tone of the quartet spoke volumes. Both here and in Zemlinsky's String quartet no4, op25, the Armonico's clean and well-proportioned phrasing was evident, as was their extensive range of tone-colour; the deliberate tension of more dissonant passages resulted in some beautiful, yearning moments. More tonal subtlety followed in Schubert's String Quartet in D minor, D810, Death and the Maiden - the arresting opening was echoed by similar bursts of energy elsewhere in the piece, but these were always offset by moments of release. Occasional uncentred intonation and slightly uncoordinated stage presentation aside, this was a superlative recital by the young Quartetto Armonico, a quartet that is surely destined for a very successful career.

Simon Hewitt Jones

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