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Reger, Beethoven, Stravinsky and Ravel: Ad Libitum Quartet. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. 02.12.2006. (ED)


Adrian Berescu – first violin

Serban Mereuta – second violin
Bogdan Bisoc – viola
Filip Papa – cello


Reger String quartet no 2 in A, op. 54
Beethoven Grosse fugue in B-flat, op. 133
Stravinsky Three pieces for string quartet
Ravel String quartet in F


This programme by the Ad Libitum Quartet, from Iasi in Romania, held in the intimate small hall of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw juxtaposed four complex and intriguing works.


Reger’s three-movement Second String Quartet clearly shows the desire to break free from Viennese influences, but in the end a question remains: does Reger remain simply non-committal or does he turn against what he sets out to achieve? The opening movement set the overall tenor for the concert with playing of insight and emotional depth. Tenderness of phrasing from the two violins sat alongside sardonic tone from the alto and in the movement’s later stages its finely gathered urgency did indeed seem to incline to the classical vein. The second movement found the quartet's unison playing immaculately voiced, throughout which the passion of the playing grew through careful overlaying of instrumental lines to form a finely woven texture. The final movement was taken playfully at first, thus contrasting with the more insular second subject to useful effect. Usefulness, however, seemed to dissipate throughout the movement as it progressed, leaving a rather matter of fact unison three note conclusion, where one might have expected a definite statement from Reger. Bringing off the mood in such music can often be difficult but the Ad Libitum quartet identified and captured an almost indefinable sense of nostalgia mixed with non-committal statement.


Beethoven’s mighty Grosse Fugue was certainly possessed of purpose from the start, making the strongest contrast possible with Reger’s preceding work. Adrian Berescu launched into the work with energy and tonal awareness, two qualities his colleagues were to pick up upon and amplify. This was a performance in which the quartet pushed Beethoven for answers to the compositional complexities laid out in the work, and the approach was only successful because Beethoven's music pushed the quartet to do so. Strongly figured bass-lines came through in Filip Papa’s cello playing to propel the work forward, gathering unity of purpose whilst showing sensitivity to details within the whole.


Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet is a trio of miniatures, but not ones that show much in the way of delicate construction. The first, a rough and rustic affair with a tentative ending, benefited from the more instinctive side of string playing that many Eastern European instrumentalists can bring off. The second piece was more furious in its phrasing with suitably harsh and insistent tone from all four players. The third, and longest, of the pieces presented a stifling oppressive atmosphere. The successful performance relied as much on giving prominence to what was hinted at but not written down or played. With the third movement being marked “Cantique”, the insular passages and silences that broke up the natural line illustrated more the thoughts behind the act of singing, rather than a giving an approximation of the act itself.


Ravel’s String Quartet in F - a work the Ad Libitum quartet have recorded on the Naxos label - provided the final contrast in this concert, with its surging lyricism and Gallic late-romantic feel. Much was made of the tonal differences possible between the first and second violins as well as a wider sense of group interaction. The playing was alive to the possibilities of Ravel’s scoring, showing cleanness of phrasing in combination with skilfully employed vibrato to enliven the tonal palette. Pizzicato playing opened the second movement and interpolated broad phrases before giving way to a soulful episode of luminous virtuosity. The subtle swagger of the cello line contrasted pleasingly with the cultured yet unassuming tone of the violins. The third movement was given with an almost nocturnal mellowness that moved towards nostalgia at times – providing the only obvious similarity to Reger’s second quartet. This was to soon disappear, however, in the face of the closing movement’s biting attack which possessed playing of the most direct honesty. The impression left by this fearless quartet in this concert was more than could be achieved merely by the sum of its parts.


Evan Dickerson



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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)