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Widmann Focus Concerts

Jörg Widmann (composer/clarinet)
Artemis Quartet

Widmann String Quartet No. 1
Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A K. 581
Schubert String Quartet in D minor D. 810 ‘Death and the Maiden’

Wigmore Hall 28 January & 24 March 2009

A full house for Jörg Widmann Focus is a feather in Wigmore Hall's cap and the first of these evenings showed that their loyal audiences were not to be put off by one of the most radical new works heard there in years.

In his pre-interview with Annette Moreau, Widmann explained how he responded to the daunting weight of history in the string quartet genre, beginning his No 1 with near-silent gestures. He went on to compose a set of (so far) five quartets, each one very different (he avoids repeating himself), which can be played separately or together in concert (the cycle is available on CD - MDG 307 1531-2 - Leipziger Streichquartett with Juliane Banse, soprano, surprisingly not on sale at Wigmore Hall). This is a notable cycle, comparable with that of R Murray Schafer, who also introduces a singer, and which still awaits a complete hearing in UK.

The performance demonstrated that this was music to see live, and the Artemis Quartet showed themselves ideally up to the task. At first hearing, some of the music is anarchic and this performance was seriously affected by a determined unrestrained loud cougher near the front, joined gradually by so many others later that I began to wonder if a protest element was becoming manifest. But the warm reception at the end indicated that was not so.

The Artemis play standing up, enhancing the sound which rose above the audience heads. They showed themselves to be in the highest rank of string quartets now before the public, and with Jörg Widmann gave one of the most satisfying accounts of Mozart's clarinet quintet that you could find anywhere.

A greatly rewarding evening culminated with an intensely powerful account of Schubert's ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet, with the song theme given chillingly non-vibrato. The energy of the finale was overwhelming.

For the last in this Artemis series, Schubert (Quartetsatz & "Rosamunde" Quartet) framed Widmann's 4th (about "walking") followed by his 3rd (about "hunting and hunted" - with shouted vocalisations) both of them very visual musics [pictured].

It was again well attended plus, under the Cavatina Chamber Music Trust, there were four rows full of youngsters who looked bewildered by Widmann and bored by Schubert; were they prepared for what they had come to hear?

The Artemis players moved around their cellist, who sat on a high stool, sharing leadership. Their strength focused attention on the lower parts, particularly in Schubert, in which Natalia Prishepenko took the first violin part with a peculiar diffidence and lack of bloom in her tone, in contrast with her more assertive colleagues. Best of the evening, though, was their encore, Piazzola?

Peter Grahame Woolf

see also http://www.musicweb.uk.net/classrev/2001/Sept01/Widmann.htm



Wihan Quartet

Mendelssohn String Quartet in Eb Op. 12
Ravel String Quartet in F
Beethoven String Quartet Op 131


Wigmore Hall, 25 January 2009

A few evenings before the first of the Widmann Focus concerts, the Wihan Quartet launched their complete Beethoven quartets series discs, recorded live at Prague, with a spell binding recital culminating with Op 131.

They have a close association with Trinity College of Music and had repeated the series recently at Blackheath, where I live.

The Wihans, in peak form, reliably produce flawless accounts of the standard repertoire, which nowadays includes Mendelssohn. The first hour of this Wigmore Hall recital was riveting, Mendlessohn's enchanting Op 12 not at all upstaged by Ravel's only quartet, which the Wihans have recorded.

Peter Grahame Woolf