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City of London Festival - New Generations

Wihan String Quartet
St Andrew Holborn 23 June 2003
Wolf Italian Serenade; Webern String Quartet 1905; Janacek String Quartet No 2

Ronald van Spaendonck clarinet, Claudio Bohorquez cello, Simon Crawford-Phillips piano St Bartholomew-the-Great, Cloth Fair, London 25 June
Barber Cello Sonata; Detlev Glanert Three Pieces for clarinet and piano (world premiere); Brahms Clarinet Trio Op 114

The extensively various City of London Festival has fare for everyone. We explored the New Generations series of early evening concerts in City Churches, an attractive proposition for city workers on their way home. In association with the RPS & the BBC, all the concerts are to be broadcast on Radio 3. Details about the scheme and New Generation artists present and past are at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/classical/newgenerations.shtml

The Wihan String Quartet flew in from Prague to replace the Karol Szymanowski Quartet, one of whose members had suffered an injury. Winners of the first London International String Quartet Competition in 1991, they have stayed together and established a leading reputation (I should be surprised if this year's finalists match their achievement). The quicksilver shafts of colour in Wolf's Italian Serenade were lost in the barrel vault of St Andrew Holborn (a local Carinthian quartet made a far better effect with it in the Klagenfurt Festival earlier this month) but the resonant acoustic suited Webern's early string quartet and the impassioned Janacek No 2.

In the stupendous Norman nave of St Bartholomew-the-Great, acoustically excellent, Ronald van Spaendonck, Claudio Bohorquez and Simon Crawford-Phillips gave a carefully prepared programme of duos and finished with the Brahms clarinet trio. Barber's conservative romanticism in his cello sonata did not greatly engage me, but Detlev Glanert's commissioned Three Pieces is a notable acquisition for the clarinet/piano repertoire. Ronald van Spaendonck displayed an exceptional control of tone colour and breathing, his dynamics down to a nearly inaudible pianissimo. All three young musicians combined in as sensitive and moving account of the Brahms as it has ever been my good fortune to hear - or am likely to again. Definitely one to try to catch on the radio.


Ronald van Spaendonck's exceptional sensibility can be enjoyed in the Brahms Clarinet Quintet with the Karol Szymanowski Quartet on a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists CD (BBC MM 227).

The Wihan Quartet have recorded the Janacek quartets (as have nearly everyone else) but far more interesting are two remarkable CDs which have my highest recommendation. Hugo Wolf's complete music for string quartet is on Arco Diva UP 0029. The major work is the splendid but rarely played large scale quartet which looks to late Beethoven and Wagner, ending with a finale which belongs to the same world as the Italian Serenade. Maybe all the influences are not fully digested, but that worries me not a whit in a performance as compelling as the Wihans. Even more neglected than this full length quartet is the Intermezzo of 1886, composed when Wolf was working on his Moericke lieder. Their other CD which I recommend strongly couples Schoenberg's Quartet No.4 Op.37 with Pfitzner's No.2 Op.36 (Arco Diva UP 0028) - the care and dedication put into these is shown by the fact that the Wolf was recorded over 5 days in 2000 and the other required six days recording time during the same year.


© Peter Grahame Woolf