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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 2009

A full house for Jörg Widmann Focus is a feather in Wigmore Hall's cap and 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, that disc surprisingly not on sale at Wigmore Hall). This is a notable cycle, comparable with the seven of R Murray Schafer, who also introduces a singer, a major cycle which still awaits a complete hearing in UK.

The performance of No.1 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 determinedly 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 suggested 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.

see also http://www.musicweb-international.com/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 and CDs [Nimbus Alliance NI 4100/2]

A few evenings before, the Wihan Quartet launched their Nimbus Alliance Beethoven quartets series, recorded live at Prague, with a spell binding recital culminating with Op 131.

They have a close association with London's Trinity College of Music and had repeated the series recently at Blackheath, where I live. I have had pre-release copies of the Prague/Beethoven discs and can confidently assert that they are fully competitive with all the studio recordings in the catalogue.

The Wihans, consistently in peak form over the years, 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 the more regularly played Ravel's only quartet, which the Wihans have recorded [Universal.cz 472 288-2] coupled with my favourite of Britten's, his 2nd with its Chacony in tribute to Purcell.

Dvorak Quartets Op 61 & 96

Wihan Quartet [recorded 2004 TT 63 mins]

Nimbus Alliance NI 6114

Photos: Wolf Marloh

In Dvorak's Op 61 I felt, not for the first time, that the Wihan's opting for flawless smoothness slightly marred the impact of this 2004 recording, finally released by Nimbus Alliance.

And, does every Czech quartet (and most of the others too) have to add another "American" quartet (the Nigger in my young days!) to the massive available discography of this most popular of the composer's quartets.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also http://www.WihanBeethovenCycle.html