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Haydn, Bartok & Schumann
(Thomas Zehetmair (violin); Kuba Jakowicz (violin); Ruth Killius (viola); Ursula Smith (cello)

Zehetmair Quartet, Wigmore Hall, 29 January 2008

I had an uneasy memory of first hearing this widely acclaimed recording quartet live - it turned out to have been eight years ago - and thought I ought to hear them again. Meanwhile, we had received and greatly enjoyed their ECM CD of BARTÓK No. 5 and HINDEMITH No. 4.

To my surprise, looking up my earlier review, I find that I could reproduce it virtually word for word on this second exposure.

Hartmann, Haydn & Schumann: Zehetmair Quartet, Wigmore Hall, 22 March 2000

This string quartet, making its London debut, grabbed the attention with bold attack and huge collective tone, seemingly intended for a much larger concert hall - - has won praise from reputable quarters. I have reservations. They play without music (as did the original Janacek Quartet) and it is good neither to have to look past music stands, which can block viewing, nor worry about page turning. Having memorised their repertoire, they are freer to communicate with each other and with us. So far so good.

If Haydn's Op 74 No 1 quartet burst upon us with unwonted fire and energy, well, it was composed for public performance at Salomon's concert hall, with a brilliant first violin part for Salomon himself. But the wiry, metallic tone of the leader's E string was disconcerting, and continued to jar through the evening. (Thomas Zehetmair is a noted virtuoso, and I remember well his race through three Bach solo Partitas at Barcelona, which had underwhelmed me.)

Karl Amadeus Hartmann's 2nd String Quartet - - is atonal and eventful, with a high velocity rhythmic finale, which was repeated as an encore, after Schumann's more domesticated Quartet Op 41 no 2, which I enjoyed for its less assertive stance, though it was an odd choice to end with... [PGW]

This week Haydn again to start, very much a routine account of the popular Emperor Op 76/3, with the leader's tone disturbingly edgy and his accuracy approximate. The Bartok 5th was assured, and well learnt; they seemed to need to look at each other but little (in contrast with, say the young Barbirolli Quartet who delighted us recently with their rapport and spontaneity, the fruit of thorough preparation in an ongoing, year long relationship, in contrast with the Zehetmairs, who meet annually to prepair and tour a single programme, memorising the scores before they rehearse without the music.

The Zehetmair's Bartok did not for us carry the excitement of their recent ECM CD, which is the wrong way round, but it must be said that the capacity Wigmore Hall audience received it enthusiastically. The Schumann was the same No. 2 as eight years ago...

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also the Kreutzer Quartet, at Wilton's Music Hall the following evening [Editor]