MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.

Other Links

Editorial Board

  • UK Editors  - Roger Jones and John Quinn

    Editors for The Americas  - Bruce Hodges and Jonathan Spencer Jones

    European Editors - Bettina Mara and Jens F Laurson

    Consulting Editor - Bill Kenny

    Assistant Webmaster -Stan Metzger

    Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb



Haydn, Beethoven:  Navarra Quartet: Magnus Johnston, Marije Ploemacher (violins), Simone van der Giessen (viola), Nathaniel Boyd (cello). Reardon Smith Theatre, National Museum, Cardiff 23.1.2011 (GPu)

Haydn, String Quartet in C, Op.54, No.2

Beethoven, String Quartet in E minor, Op.59, No.2

As has often been noted, Haydn’s opus 54 quartets have about them what was then a new assertiveness, a new demonstrativeness and even flamboyance of manner. This is certainly true of the second of the three quartets that carry the Opus 54 number, the most often played of the three. There is much that is bold in the writing and some of it makes considerable demands on the players’ virtuosity, in music where the first violin often plays a somewhat dominant role. In this performance by the young Navarra Quartet – formed in 2002 at the Royal Northern College of Music and currently Quartet in Association there – there was plenty of energy and propulsive playing. In the opening vivace the work of leader Magnus Johnston was strong, and the ensemble playing was well knit-together, though at moments things felt just a little rushed and in need of a little more space; certainly some of Haydn’s pauses might have been given greater value. Johnston was naturally much to the fore in the C minor adagio, playing the lamenting Ziguener over the hymn-like ground provided by the other voices. By leading straight from this adagio into the minuet, a minuet suggestive of both the ländler and the later waltz, Haydn (not uncharacteristically) teases the listener’s formal expectations, especially when the adagietto echoes the adagio as well as the minuet proper. This is tricky stuff and I am not sure that the Navarra absolutely brought it off on this occasion. Haydn continues to flout mere convention, closing with an enigmatic movement which opens with a simple and calm adagio (in which the cello of Nathaniel Boyd was heard to particularly good effect), before a lively presto enters assertively and appears to have taken over, to have established the movement as the kind of fast movement properly fitted to close a quartet; a fortissimo chord feels as though it is announcing the beginning of a forceful coda, only for the slow opening of the movement to return and for the work to close with a touching delicacy. The Navarra’s account of this movement was intelligent and measured, though a little of its magic eluded them.

In the second of Beethoven’s three Razumovsky quartets the playing was committed and energetic, though sometimes at the cost of detail. The opening of the allegro, with its two widely spaced chords, carried appropriate authority, but in the many rapidly shifting moods that occupy so much of the movement, transitions and emotional contrasts were not delineated quite as clearly as they might have been. The lengthy adagio was well focussed and shaped and the movement’s progression from an initial innocence and unearthly calm, through a suggestion of the heroic, to a degree of sorrow before closing in what Cobbett, capturing the emotional ambiguity very well, called “a tranquillity which is not that of joy” was well articulated. The Navarra Quartet was at its best in the compelling interpretation of this difficult movement. The opening of the allegretto was nicely pointed, though in the main scherzo-body of the movement their playing sometimes seemed too busily forceful to allow the music’s deep sense of unrest to find expression. The high-spirits of the closing presto were generally well-handled and a pleasantly jaunty manner was achieved and sustained, though this performance didn’t quite have the headlong irresistibility that some quartets have found in the movement.

The Navarra Quartet is already a good ensemble, and this was a concert at which one was very happy to have been present. The two quartets they chose to play on this occasion are both particularly complex and demanding, full of teasing subtleties and subversions of the conventional; I suspect that in a few year’s time the Navarra’s readings of these quartets will be better still – something to look forward to on the evidence of the good things they are already able to offer.

Glyn Pursglove


Back to Top                                                  Cumulative Index Page