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Aldeburgh Festival (7) Schubert, Shostakovitch and Mozart: Belcea Quartet; Simon Rowland-Jones (viola) Snape Maltings, 19.06.2006 (JW)



Schubert: Quintet Overture in C minor D8 (1811)
String Quartet No 3
String Quintet in G minor K516


The vibrant and talented Belcea Quartet made a brief appearance at the Aldeburgh Festival in an intense early evening programme, following a format which seems to be becoming a festival style - the dense single session concert with an early start and no interval. Listeners seemed to be divided as to whether a break would in fact have been welcome to refresh their concentration (especially given the intense and quite lengthy nature of the major works in the programme) or whether the intensity of the experience deepened their appreciation of the music


In a change to the advertised programme, the third of Shostakovich's quartets was substituted for Thomas Adès' Arcadiana, on account of the recent recruitment of a new cellist who had not yet had time to learn the Adès work. Given Adès' role as Artistic Director of the festival, and the relatively brief length of the concert, there was an initial suspicion that the audience were being rather short changed by an ensemble perhaps over-confident of its reputation.


However the playing itself was sufficient to dispel such reservations, with the Shostakovich quartet in fact being especially fine. Given that some of that composer's larger scale works featured in the festival, it was good to see his chamber works also represented; the beautiful Viola Sonata was played in one of the closing concerts as part of a sequence of viola recitals in the final weekend underlining the focus on that instrument in this year's festival. The string quartets are a very important part of Shostakovitch's chamber oeuvre, and the inclusion of one of those seemed a very fair choice in retrospect.


The performance of this quartet was truly excellent - thoughtful, by turns stirring and melancholic, keeping pace without being over-hasty. Particularly commendable were the lengthy viola solo in the fourth movement and the haunting violin solo near the end. The audience, after their initial disquiet, greeted this excellent performance of a substantial and difficult work not merely with applause but with cheers and shouts of 'Bravo'. Those who are interested in this composer's work would be well advised to avail themselves of the BBC's recording detailed later.


The Schubert was a good opening choice - tuneful, melodic, lyrical and mellow. The pleasant piece was also well received by an encouraging audience.


The second of Mozart's three viola quintets (the first having been performed by the Endellion Quartet and David Adams on 16 June) is a well-crafted piece with fine contrapuntal harmony. The performance was clear and melodic, the fourth movement, and in particular its opening, deserving particular commendation.


The new cellist seems to be gelling very well with the ensemble and his playing was notable for its own merits, both in the Shostakovich and also in the Mozart Quintet where the cello as well as the additional viola has a significant part.


A slightly abridged recording of this concert (minus the Schubert overture)  was broadcast on 27 June as Radio Three's lunchtime concert and will be available on the 'Listen Again' facility of the BBC's website for seven days after that.



Julie Williams





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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)