Beethoven is as tough a test of a quartet's strengths and weaknesses as any composer. The right spirit is often conveyed with excruciating tuning, wailing vibrato and rough edges. In the E minor Razumovsky, Op 59 No 2, the Brentano passed the intonation test with flying colours, and if the first violinist's tone was slightly edgy, anyone who remembered the old Hungarian Quartet, virtually unsurpassed in this music, would have recognised a good precedent. The Brentano's fortissimi were positively orchestral, their pianissimi spectacularly distant and secretive. The Allegretto third movement dizzied by with controlled clan.
To choose the Third Quartet of Nicholas Maw as the centre-piece of the evening was neat thinking: here was an American quartet about-to-be resident in London playing a fairly recent work (Maw wrote the quartet in 1994) by an Englishman living in the United States. It's an interesting, very solidly written piece in five distinct movements which lead into each other without breaks. The first is lyrical - recognisably English in its swaying melodic lines woven gracefully together, though the music has forceful moments too. The second movement is declamatory and punchy, featuring solo cadenzas with lots of double notes while the other players freeze. Then comes a fugitive scherzo, nocturnal and ghostly, with all the instruments muted. A sort of stamping dance follows - inevitably, it recalls Bartok - and the final movement is a passacaglia, threaded on a most unusual "ground" constructed mostly in pairs of notes separated by rests, which give it an elusive and haunting character, this travels, transposed, round all the instruments, and although the surrounding counterpoint is not particularly attractive, the skill of the thing is impressive. So was the performance.Reuse content