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Schubert, Mozart Tokyo String Quartet with Sabine Meyer (clarinet). Wigmore Hall, London 13.12. 2010 (CC)


Schubert String Quartet in E flat, D87

Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A, K581


Given the high profile of the performers, it was no surprise that this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert was a sell-out. The performances were simply sublime. This was music making of the very highest calibre, a pleasure to hear from first to last. The programming, too, was carefully considered and highly effective.


The Yggdrasil Quartet’s recording of D87 on BIS holds a special place in my affections (see review), but the Tokyo propelled the piece into another league. It was evident from the off that a huge amount of consideration had gone into this interpretation. Contrasts between legato and staccato phrases were maximal at the outset. The Tokyo Quartet's sound is warm but not indulgent, leaving space for the surprising amount of drama this piece holds. Of particular delight, too, were the truly pianissimo hushed passages in the development of the first movement. If the brief Scherzo was more Allegro vivace than the prescribed Prestissimo, it held a lovely, interior Trio. The final two movements soared to even greater heights, with a wonderfully tender Adagio (Martin Brewer's sweet solo violin soaring over a blissfully-balanced accompaniment and music that spoke through its silences) leading to a last movement that inhabited the same world as a sparkling finale to an act of a Mozart comic opera. Here, jocular humour was added to an already expansive palette; little Viennese-derived agogics gave the music a spring in its step. Memorable.


But not as memorable as the Mozart Clarinet Quintet that followed. Here was the very essence of chamber music. Sabine Meyer is one of the world's finest clarinettists, and her union with one of the finest quartets was a match made in Heaven. This was one of those performances where everything seemed perfect. As one listened, it was impossible to imagine different tempi or different phrasings, such was the sheer magnetism and assuredness of the performance. Meyer is gifted with superb tone, fluency at speed and tuning. The players brought a suprahuman peace to the calmer plateaux of the first movement and brought a lovely, velvet darkening to the development. They seemed to be true channels of the transcendental purity of late Mozart.


And so it continued. The Larghetto was exquisite in its emotionally poignant sotto voce, especially in the beautiful cello lines of Clive Greensmith and Meyer's own impeccably judged ornaments. There was no criticism possible for the timing of the Menuetto here, nor of its return after the Trio. The variations of the finale seemed to hold the whole world. Meyer's agility was jaw-dropping, as was the impact of the plaintive viola variation (Kazuhide Isomura) .


It is interesting to note that the fascinating composer Jürg Widmann, himself a fine clarinettist, has written a double clarinet concerto for Sabine and Wolfgang Meyer, due for premiere in 2013 (echoing the concerto composed for the same pair by Peter Eötvös in 2008).


The present concert will be re-broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday, December 18th at 2pm.

  Colin Clarke

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