CHAMBER MUSIC / Making more of less: Nicholas Williams looks back on the Cherubini Quartet's chronological survey of the complete Beethoven string quartets

In an example of inspired programming last September, Sir Colin Davis conducted an orchestral version of Beethoven's E flat string quartet, Op 127. Hearing the work in the amplified resonance of the ECO string section was inevitably a thrilling experience. Yet equally striking was the lesson that, whatever the form in which you present it, a string quartet always remains a string quartet.

For the past fortnight at the Wigmore Hall the Cherubini Quartet's first London Beethoven cycle has been convincingly reinforcing this precept. Partly it has been a matter of the stylish assurance of their playing. Chiefly, however, it has resulted from an awareness by all four players that the genre has its unique inner tempo. True string quartets unfold their ideas at a different rate from sonatas and symphonies. Transcribed for piano duet, they lose their sonorous essence. Beefed up in orchestral terms, they can sound fussy and rushed.

The D major quartet, Op 18 No 3, starting the cycle on 30 June with a statuesque, unruffled opening that soon boiled over into a flood of new thematic material, amply demonstrated the point. Understandably hesitant, the players took until the exposition's repeat to match their step in terms of intonation and cadential rhythm. But of their ability to grasp the music's pace - and to project the complex balance of its broader rhythm in terms of the medium itself - there was never any doubt. The lengthy first movement of the F major quartet, Op 18 No 1, showed similar, impressive unanimity, while the exceptional euphony of the group overall, centred around Harlof Schilchtig's glowing viola tone, proved the ideal vehicle for projecting the slow movement's theatrical pathos.

The G major quartet, second of the Op 18 set, had the players competing individually within its obsessive semiology of questioning and answering phrases. The result could have been arch, gestural; that is, without the Cherubini's measured sweetness softening its prim structural outlines. By contrast the scherzo was boisterously anarchic. And in a dozen bars of the finale, where cellist Manuel Fischer- Dieskau traced energetic lines against a sustained bare seventh in the viola, the ensemble probed textures of 20th-century austerity.

Even more of Beethoven the Progressive was on offer in the penultimate concert of the series on Friday, where the B flat quartet, Op 130, was preceded by its original finale, the Grosse Fuge. Miraculously, the Cherubini's reading of this hybrid avoided precisely that sense of exaggeration and strain that has always been proposed as the reason for presenting it in orchestral garb. Yet, with the rhetoric removed, it worked perfectly as a self-contained fantasy quartet, the players absorbed in the intimate relations of its contrapuntal web.

In the B flat quartet itself, where the patterns of dialogue from Op 18 No 2 seemed extended into paragraphs of sustained suspense and resolution, each return of the brooding introduction and allegro was a memorable dramatic event, culminating in a final transformation as a disembodied, spectral reminiscence. Both here and in the genial Alla danza tedesca there was more than a month's ration of memorable solos, exposed yet never forced. In the Cavatina, the singing tone and discreet vibrato of the leader, Christoph Poppen, allowed the composer's instruction 'molto espressivo' to speak for itself. The Beethovenian syncopations of the last movement were seriously comic. Even so, it was difficult to believe this was the last music Beethoven ever wrote.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on