Belcea Quartet brings fleet, incisive style to varied program

By David Fleshler

The Belcea Quartet performed Monday night at Gusman Concert Hall. Photo: Sheila Rock

The quartets of Haydn can come off as excessively formal and polite, court dances for four instruments. From the first notes of the composer’s late Quartet in G Major, Op. 77 no. 1, it was clear that the musicians of the Belcea Quartet would give us a different view of the classical master in their concert Monday at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall.

With the lean, angular style of first violinist Corina Belcea setting the tone, the quartet performed the first movement in a fleet, light and brisk manner. There is a lot going on in this quartet, one of the last Haydn wrote, with counterpoint and anything-but-simple accompaniments, and the quartet’s thin ribbons of tone highlighted these complexities without allowing the performance to lose coherence. The Adagio was a lyric and dramatic episode, with Belcea’s melody cutting through the hushed accompaniment of the other instruments, achieving a gorgeous choral tone.

Formed in 1994 by students at London’s Royal College of Music, the Belcea Quartet has become one of the world’s leading chamber ensembles. Of the founding members, only the first violinist remains. The ensemble was presented by Friends of Chamber Music of Miami.

The British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage has achieved a certain notoriety this year for an opera based on the life of Anna Nicole Smith, given a well-received premiere last month at Covent Garden. His 2008 quartet Twisted Blues with Twisted Ballad, is a three-movement work inspired by the music of Led Zeppelin.

Before the performance, the quartet’s violist, Krzysztof Chorzelski, stood to talk about how Turnage came to write it.  (“As he is in the very unenviable position of being sandwiched between Haydn and Beethoven, I thought he might need some help.”). The quartet had discussed a commission with Turnage for years, he explained, but the composer hadn’t had the time. Then after attending a Led Zeppelin concert in London, Turnage raced home and started work on a quartet based on the rock band’s songs.

Getting a string quartet to evoke the sounds of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant isn’t easy, but Turnage and the Belcea quartet did their best, with Turnage creating a rhythm section by requiring the performers to knock on their instruments. In the first movement Belcea and second violinist Axel Schacher went up high, with wide, fast vibratos that suggested an electric guitar, over a thumping accompaniment in the viola and cello. The first movement proved almost monotonous though in its unvarying tension and screaming tones. Most successful was the last movement, in which cellist Antoine Lederlin played the Stairway to Heaven theme, surrounded by discordant harmonies in the other instruments, after which the tune was fragmentized and transformed.

Having performed one of Haydn’s last quartets, the Belcea ensemble closed the concert with Beethoven’s final work in the form, the String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135. As in the Haydn, they took a light, agile approach. So moments of drama, such as the rushing, dissonant, fortissimo repeated notes of the last movement carried that much more power. The best playing came in the slow movement, in which violinist Belcea played a long melody and variations over a pulsing accompaniment in the other instruments, played in an affecting but not excessively heavy style.



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Tue Mar 29, 2011
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