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Ysaÿe Quartet & Arman Trio

Ysaÿe Quartet Wigmore Hall 10 February 2007


Beethoven: String Quartet in F Op. 135
Bartók: String Quartet No. 6
Schumann: String Quartet in A Op. 41 No. 3

This was a distinguished evening of quartet playing, one which attracted a completely sold out Wigmore Hall, upstairs and down, packed to standing at the back. One of the senior quartets who tour the world, in their present line-up it was the lower strings which caught the ear as more characterful.

Nothing to fault in their Beethoven, though one has heard more engaging accounts; and Bartok six is the one I least look forward to hearing again. Misha Donat's notes rehearsed the circumstances of its composition whilst the composer was severing connections with his native Hungary, completed just before he finally left Europe for the USA. Making less impact than wonted, one felt that they might have played it too often?

Which left Schumann, surprisingly, as the composer to lift the evening to a higher level of communication. Only comparatively recently has his chamber music ascended to canonic status, and this performance of No 3 was thoroughly enjoyable, though the Ysaÿe's account left a feeling that the finale was the weakest movement.

Arman Trio Blackheath Halls 11 February 2007

Beethoven - Piano Trio in D, Op.70 No.1 'Ghost'
Dvorák - Piano Trio in E minor, Op.90 No.4 'Dumky'
Shostakovich - Piano Trio in E minor, Op.67 No.2.

 To attract listeners to Blackheath's Sunday morning recital, the Arman Trio was introduced as offering "poetic, impassioned and incisive performances" which had won standing ovations. This they vindicated, hurling the music at their sold-out audience (chamber music is currently thriving in London!) in a manner which caught you up and sustained a demanding and very full length programme - Wigmore Hall offers but an hour's music at their heavily subscribed Sunday morning Coffee Concerts.

Perhaps the disparate conjunction of three different instruments (the equal-temperament of the piano affronts some string players!) makes for a necessarily more spontaneous approach than a string quartet, which can more or less reproduce the same performance wherever they appear. The strings of the Armans are powerful, and Deniz Arman Gelenbe had no call to restrain the Blackheath Bösendorfer; balance was exemplary and (as last night at Wigmore Hall) it was again the lowest string, Dorel Fodoreanu's cello, which often drew attention for its generous tone and sonority.

The first half contrasted disturbing 'ghostly' Beethoven with the sunniness of Dvorak, ensuring a 'feel good' satisfaction for the interval. Sterner stuff to follow!

What did Shostakovich intend the beginning of his trio to convey? In early performances the high harmonics on cello were perilous indeed, but now they are commonplace for younger string players (though even one as experienced as Fodoreanu had a couple of little glitches at Blackheath). I believe the tension was deliberate - as was Beethoven's writing in his later quartets during his own and into later times, but no longer now with the advances in strings technique. In an excellent note with their CD, its effect in launching Shostakovich's "personal lament in the midst of war (1944)" is characterised as "eerie and macabre". The Arman's performance was gripping, indeed searing in its intensity. Gratefully, we were brought down to emerge for our Sunday dinner by a soothing encore, Piazzola's Oblivion; exactly right!

Although their recordings compete with the most illutrious piano trios through the ages of recorded music, the coupling are less usual and make them well worth considering. Fuller reviews to follow of the Arman Trio CDs of Beethoven/Schubert and Dvorak/Shostakovich (recorded live).

Peter Grahame Woolf