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Ysaÿe Quartet & Paul Meyer (clarinet)

Guillaume Sutre (violin)
Luc-Marie Aguera (violin)
Miguel da Silva (viola)
Yovan Markovitch (cello)

Wigmore Hall 27 Apr 2006

Claude Debussy: String Quartet in G minor Op. 10
Friedrich Cerha: Clarinet Quintet
Johannes Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor Op. 115

The Viennese composer Friedrich Cerha (b. 1926) is best known here for having completed Berg's opera Lulu. The presence of Cerha, two days after his new Clarinet Quintet had been premiered in Vienna, helped to ensure an enthusiastic response from a nearly full audience; our allocated press seats had been taken, which figures in this review.


There was no note about the quintet in the £3 programme; instead a reprinted 6½ page close-typed interview with the composer and his wife. The work turned out to be of conventional design in four movements, evoking Berg's language; a serviceable alternative to the usual coupling of the Brahms quintet with Mozart or Weber, but not a work that is likely to carve an enduring place in the repertoire. (See a harsher response in The Guardian.)


From our seats near the front Paul Meyer impressed as a chamber music partner, not a soloist manqué, auguring well for the Brahms. There too the balance was perfect, with unanimity between the quartet and its visitor, who revelled in his blending, sustaining a thread of pianissimo when required, opening out for the gygpsy sections of the slow movement. 'infinitely regretful and always lyrical', wrote KC for Classical Source.


He enjoyed the evening (presumably from the back) but, in some ways, seemed to be at a different concert, finding Meyer In the Brahms 'a modestly commanding soloist' and Debussy the least engrossing item: ' - - while the performance was manifestly professional, it was also rather sedate – somewhat ‘automatic', a little tired'. This examplifies again why readers need to bring their own experiences, and critical reading of several reviews, to deciding whether they want to follow up a concert through recordings or by noting future opportunities.


Having been seriously discomfited by a Taiwanese quartet (with self-admittedly little experience of French chamber music) winning the recent London International Competition with what felt to many of us an unidiomatic performance of Debussy's quartet in the Finals, we found the Ysaÿes restorative in this staple of the repertoire. Theirs was an enthralling account, in detail as in overall feel, which made us regret that we had not before come across this ensemble, which in 1988 had become the first French quartet to win the Evian International Competition. The Ysaÿe Quartet will be twice at Wigmore Hall again for the opening week of the next season in September - we'll be there!

Peter Grahame Woolf

Photo Credit: BMG (Paul Meyer)