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Wihan Quartet at 25 - Martinu, Dvorak & Smetana

Martinu String Quartet No 2
Dvorak String Quartet In D Minor Op 34
Smetana Quartet No 1

Wigmore Hall, 31 May 2010

We have been following the Wihans in London and on CD since 1991, when they won the First Prize and the Audience Prize in the London International String Quartet Competition at Goldsmiths Hall.

The main problem for reviewing has been their very perfection, with no personnel changes for two and a half decades and performances so completely thought through as to leave little scope for spontaneity on the night. This has been reflected in several of our reviews, viz. the Wihans were perhaps just a little low-key in their elegant interpretations of music which came to birth through struggle? [Wihan Quartet live and on CD Wigmore Hall 17 May 2006]; - - hard to write about, because their style and technique are impeccable [Beethoven at Blackheath].

This celebratory concert before a packed Wigmore Hall audience of chamber music connoisseurs did have a special spark. The programme began with a relative novelty, a dense and powerful quartet by Martinu (1925) which was too strong meat for some present. This, to my surprise, is the only Martinu quartet in the Wihans repertoire; they should bring the others to us (the only complete recording seems to have been by the Panocha Quartet c. 1980).

Op 34 is included in a CD to be released later this year on Nimbus Alliance. It left us hoping (expecting?) a complete Dvorak intégrale from the Wihans.

Smetana's first quartet, written in the throes of the composer's depression with crippling tinnitus, which led to total deafness amongst syphilitic complications. As in the past, I was disappointed that the high violin note towards the end, signifying tinnitus and deafness, wasn't longer and more scary; it is one of those musical moments oft written about, but less effectve in actuality.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Recorded live (date not given) in the Prague Convent where they they put down their second Beethoven intégrale, the Wihans predictably brought affection and mature understanding to these works by their most popular countryman.

The earlier, Op 34, composed whilst he and his wife were coping with the loss of three children, has a tragic minor mood, which is relieved by a more optimistic finale.

The other, Op 105, celebrating Dvorak's return to his home country from America, is a grand, expansive quartet. You will not be disappointed by this lovely CD. PGW