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Wihan Quartet recital and master class at Blackheath
5 & 7 November 2006

The Wihans, whom we have followed since they won the first prize and audience prize at London's International Competition in 1991, are now at a mature peak, and still with their original membership after twenty years together (Leos Cepicky & Jan Schulmeister - violins; Jiri Zigmund - viola & Ales Kasprik - 'cello).

They gave faultless performances of three canonic masterworks (Mozart String Quartet No 16 in E flat, K428; Beethoven String Quartet No 11 in F minor, Op 95 & Ravel String Quartet in F) at Blackheath on Guy Fawkes Day, leaving a critic little to say!

Their very excellence gave rise to worrying thoughts. If the recital had been recorded and a CD of it sold to the audience on their way out (perfectly feasible with recent technological advances) it would have been virtually indistinguishable (to our ears) from a carefully edited studio recording.

The downside, for listeners long familiar with those works, is the lack of any sense of danger, which used to have us on the edge of our seats for e.g. the ending of Op 95. If they are to keep their freshness for another 20 years, I would hope that they will engage far more with living composers alongside the "canon".

Their latest CD is of arrangments of Beatles tunes, one of which was given as an encore - sounding very like Dvorak! I hope it doesn't herald a capitulation to market forces as seemed to happen with the Kronos Quartet?

Master Class with the Carducci Quartet

A very different and privileged experience was available two days later at Blackheath Halls.

The Wihans gave a public master class to the noted Carducci String Quartet (Matthew Denton and Michelle Fleming, violins; Eoin Schmidt-Martin, viola, and Emma Denton, cello) who had been reviewed by Musical Pointers in contemporary music as PLG Young Musicians.

They had been commended by the Jury at the recent London International String Quartet Competition, where the Wihan Quartet heard them. This day of classes came about because the Carducci Quartet are now Bulldog Scholars at Trinity College of Music, where the Wihan Quartet are 'Quartet in Residence' and teach regularly between their concert tours in the UK. The whole weekend was sponsored and organised with the great help of Trinity and Blackheath by the Cavatina Chamber Music Trust.

The Carduccis session on Dvorak's Op 96 Quartet ("The American", as it is now called) was an extraordinary learning opportunity for them, and for we all too few who attended. They had been used to coaching by single members of string quartets, but this time all four Wihans were present, and displayed inexaustible and infectious energy. Each musician had a special mentoring relationship towards his opposite number. They bounded up and down, on and off the platform, as ideas struck them. Often all four were holding animated conversations simultaneously, and demonstrating phrasing and articulation on their own instruments or those of their pupils.

As the class proceeded, scarcely a bar or phrase escaped scrutiny and the Carducci's playing of an already familiar recital favourite was transformed in expressiveness and intensity, rhythmic pointing and tone matching, the morning session overrunning into the afternoon to complete work on Dvorak's finale.

Many of us would have thought we "knew" this well loved masterpiece, but it will never sound quite the same to us again. Having enjoyed the Wihans recently released 2004 recording of Dvorak's less well known Op 61, I have returned with fresh ears to their "American", with which it is coupled [WQCD 10505].

No need to look farther!

It gets harder and harder to choose (or advise) amongst the numerous recordings of the quartet classics as digital recording and editing has raised standards and expectations immeasurably.

Patterns of buying are changing; I am told that more classical CDs are sold at concerts than from the shops, and the Wihans had wisely brought along to Blackheath a selection of theirs; the recent complete Beethoven quartets, Dvorak quartets, Britten & Ravel quartets, Schumann and Dvorak piano quintets etc (Dvorak's will be in their next South Place appearance, Nov 26th).

After special concerts, as good a guide to likely enjoyment as any may be to purchase CDs at the venues; that links home listening with memorable live events.

See the Wihan Quartet's new website, with details of all their CDs.
The latest is an arrangment of Beatles tunes by Lubos Krticka, Lotos L T 0102-2-131

Photo of Wihan & Carducci Quartets by Pamela Majaro