Arcanto Quartet, Wigmore Hall, London
Northern Sinfonia, The Sage, Gateshead

Four string soloists make their audience feel each quiver of joy and pain, while the ground shakes in Zehetmair's vivid Beethoven

A letter here, an anecdote there, a series of initials spelled out in the notes of the scale.

Vexed by the mystery of genius, we love to find biographical clues in music. The Arcanto Quartet's performance of Berg's Lyric Suite began with an autopsy, tracing each stage of the composer's affair with Hanna Fuchs, from secret beguilement to whispered confessions, consummation, separation and despair in a series of discrete musical examples. Guiding your audience through a labyrinth is one thing. Making them feel each quiver of joy and pain is another.

Founded in 2002, the Arcanto Quartet is composed of four soloists, its sound uniquely strong and sweet. The voices are distinct: first violinist Antje Weithaas's bird-like, sensitive soprano; second violinist Daniel Sepec's clear, direct mezzo; violist Tabea Zimmermann's heroic, androgynous alto; cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras's slender, poetic tenor. Cast as the characters in the domestic idyll of the Andante amoroso, with Zimmermann's Do-Do (Hanna's daughter) chasing the tail of her boisterous older brother and Weithaas's Hanna calming both children, individuality is an advantage.

You can listen to the Lyric Suite without investigating its structure. If the medium is atonal, the message is High Romantic, a dissolving of two into one. Though Berg quotes Tristan and Isolde in the rheumatic lament of the Largo desolato, there is no "and" in his Allegro misterioso: his initials (A B) and those of his lover (H F, or, in the German scale, B F) dart like fireflies, muddled and reordered.

For all the sweetness and boldness, this fragment of intimacy was, with the final quiet sigh from Zimmermann's viola, more moving than any swell or sob. Schubert's String Quartet in G (D887) felt too highly flavoured by comparison. Only fleetingly was there a sense of blissful dissolving, in the autumnal drone of the Andante. The jittery Scherzo prefigures troubles to come: a haunting, a dislocation, the stuff of Winterreise and Schwanengesang. No biographical examples were needed. Within two years, Schubert would be dead.

In Gateshead, he was still young, still hopeful. A faint Gothic mist curled around Northern Sinfonia's clarinets in the opening Adagio of Schubert's Third Symphony. Was this melancholy or fantasy? Violinist and conductor Thomas Zehetmair's lithe orchestra is ideally equipped for works that teeter on the precipice of Romanticism: open to the warmest legato and the sharpest sforzandi, watchful and alert, a period-modern stylistic hybrid with an alluringly transparent blend. Having a lovely acoustic to work in helps. Much like the Wigmore Hall, where Zehetmair's own quartet will perform D887 next month, Hall One at The Sage flatters without airbrushing.

Zehetmair's approach to Schubert's Third is infused with wonder. The young composer was still working at his father's school, still studying with Salieri, when he wrote this work, one of 200 composed in 1815. Mozart and Haydn provided the structural models, Beethoven the sharp-elbowed hemiolas that pepper the Minuet. That Gothic mist is quickly burnt away by sunshine, the final movement a scorching tarantella that anticipates Schubert's on-off fascination with Rossini. Only later would he choose to explore the twilight.

The Third Symphony was not performed in Schubert's lifetime. Neither was his fourth, with its ill-deserved soubriquet, the Tragic Symphony. This is a fan letter to Beethoven's fifth, adopting the same interrogative play of minor to major, dark to light, the same key. Zehetmair cuts an intimidating, austere figure on the podium. Yet his string players seemingly thrive on details of bowing that only a fellow string-player would demand. The details are dazzling, violas and second violins giddy in the teeth-chattering quavers of the last Allegro, the intelligence and wit of the cello section captivating throughout.

So, from a fan letter to the most enigmatic four-note motif in the canon. In Zehetmair's reading of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, the famous opening was less a statement than a whiplash double-take. Northern Sinfonia's fight-or-flight performance was notable not just for the specificity of phrasing – instead of allotting short bows to one subject, long bows to another, their bowing develops in parallel with the musical development – but for the breadth of space in oboist Michael O'Donnell's solo cadence. Bees hummed in the Andante, the ground shook in the transition to the closing movement, its great affirmation underpinned by a handsome contrabassoon. Intensely familiar and shockingly new, this was more vivid and enthralling than the Leipzig Gewandhaus's recent Beethoven. A triumph.

Next Week

Anna Picard encounters a Winterreise involving a puppet

Classical Choice

Ex Cathedra sing Christmas music by candlelight at St Mary's, Warwick (Tue), St John's, Hagley (Wed), St John's, Smith Square, London (Fri), and St James, Chipping Campden (Sat). The EU Baroque Orchestra brings A Breath of Enlightenment to Spitalfields Winter Festival with Locatelli's Christmas Concerto in London's Shoreditch Church (Sat).

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
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.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower