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Belcea Quartet @ Shriver Hall

available at Amazon
Beethoven, String Quartets, Belcea Quartet
(Zig Zag, 2014)

available at Amazon
Schubert, "Rosamunde" Quartet (inter alia), Belcea Quartet
(EMI, 2009)
The Belcea Quartet contributed to one of the more memorable concerts of my listening life, with tenor Ian Bostridge at the Library of Congress in 2006. Between that time and their 2013 performances at the Schubertiade Festival in Schwarzenberg, the group had a personnel change, with Axel Schacher replacing Laura Samuel as second violinist. The group's appearance at Shriver Hall on Sunday evening was my first chance to hear the new formation, and the results were fine indeed.

They began with one of Mozart's "Prussian" quartets (F major, K. 590), which opened with such careful attacks, emerging from nothing, setting a tone of contained and balanced sound. (For some reason, the group did not observe the repeat of the exposition's first movement in any of the pieces on the program.) All players did not quite agree on the tempo, especially in the first and third movements, but the approach was characterized by remarkable simplicity and finesse, except some overplayed parts of the third movement. The fourth movement was perhaps just too fast, with some of the runs feeling somewhat glossed over, but if it was wild it was also thrilling. The Belcea Quartet has just released a box set of the complete Beethoven quartets, and their performance of the third quartet here (D major, op. 18/3) showed an easy familiarity. This quartet's slow movement, taken at a tempo just the right degree not too slow, suited their intensely quiet style, as they allowed the music to unreel from the spool without any fussiness. The short third movement was playfully delicate, and the fourth movement, although ultra-fast, was quite graceful.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Looking back on weekend's Choral Arts, Pro Musica, Shriver Hall concerts (Baltimore Sun, October 29)

Zachary Lewis, Belcea Quartet treats Chamber Music Society crowd to impassioned Brahms, Berg and Mozart (Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 22)
The final piece, Schubert's gloomy "Rosamunde" quartet (A minor, D. 804), was just in my ears thanks to the Dover Quartet. Although that performance felt unburdened and natural in its choice of tempos, the Belcea Quartet showed that one could err on even slightly more moderate choices in all the movements. In the Schubert, the soft sweetness of first violinist Corina Belcea's tone was beautifully placed, and all four musicians used a senza vibrato straight tone effectively in a few places, to draw out stark harmonies. The Minuetto's opening dotted motif, which returns in the cello many times, here was not menacing, seeming instead just to announce a serious recollection, while the Trio, slightly faster, had a folksy lightness. The finale had a dance-like weight on strong beats, and although it was taken at a quick pace, the first violinist also had all those runs light as a feather.

The next event on the Shriver Hall season will feature the Calidore String Quartet (November 8, 3 pm), in a free concert at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

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