Seen and Heard
Royal String Quartet (Izabella Szalaj-Zimak, Elwira Przybylowska,
violins; Marek Czech, viola; Michal Pepol, cello), Wigmore Hall, 1pm,
Monday December 13th, 2004 (CC)
Part of the New Generations Series, this lunchtime concert was an
important occasion. Important in the sense that the young Royal String
Quartet are to be the Wigmore’s Quartet-in-Residence in 2006.
This was their chance to shine, to a large audience in the hall as
well as to the loyal band of Radio 3 listeners.
Unfortunately I have not yet heard their disc on the Dux label (and
don’t confuse the quartet with the ‘other’ Royal
String Quartet, a Danish ensemble that has recorded Anton Rubinstein’s
first two quartets for the EtCetera label) and the disc mentioned
in their bio on Sony Classical of Piazzolla seems to have been a Sony
Classical Poland release.
The Royal String Quartet is young, so this was a daring programme.
Haydn’s D minor Quartet, Op. 76 No. 2 (interestingly enough,
recorded on Harmonia Mundi by another young quartet that have graced
this very concert series)
was juxtaposed with Beethoven’s Op. 74, the so-called ‘Harp’
Quartet. Only twelve years separate these works (1797 and 1809 respectively),
yet there is a quantum leap in expressive breadth.
Youthful energy was certainly not in short supply for the Haydn, which
began in the most determined of fashions. Immediately it became obvious
that the two first violinists are very much equals. The youth of the
Royal Quartet acted as a real advantage here, as all four instrumentalists
seemed very much fascinated by Haydn’s never-ending invention.
Doubts emerged with the second movement, not a ‘real’
slow movement as such (‘Andante o più tosto allegretto’).
The ability to project Haydnesque simplicity is the result of many
years’ experience, and one waits with eagerness what the Royal
Quartet may yet bring to this music. Certainly the intention is all
there, but concentration from the performers did dip. Not so in the
sparsely canonic writing of the third movement, nor in the playful
finale (a shame first violinist Izabella Szalaj-Zimak’s tone
was wiry here).
Beethoven’s Op. 74 quartet was a really brave choice. Better
in the near-orchestral sonorities of the first movement’s Allegro,
the Poco Adagio that opens the work pointed once more to the Quartet’s
need to penetrate beneath the music’s surface. Technically,
they are superb; now is the time, I would suggest, for them to take
this music and learn it well, in private, and only release it slowly
onto the public. A BBC broadcast of a Wigmore event is certainly not
a slow exposure and the nerves perhaps came through, particularly
in the Adagio, ma non troppo, which was initially very unsettled.
The Presto third movement was nearly the power-house it should be,
leading to a finale that was full of eloquence.
A tentative welcome, then. It will be interesting to watch what becomes
of the Royal String Quartet, and its residency gives London audiences
the opportunity to watch an undeniably talented group grow.
Haydn: Jerusalem Quartet (see review)
Beethoven: Takács Quartet Decca 470 847-2
(two-disc set, including also the three ‘Razumovsky’ Quartets
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