Classical review: quartet-lab, Wigmore Hall, London
Monday 16 September 2013
Signifying their subversive intent with a lower-case title, quartet-lab aim to revolutionise the quartet repertoire. They are led by the charismatic Pekka Kuusisto, whose credentials as a jazz and folk violinist are as impressive as those for his classical work. Maverick Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey has long pioneered unusual arrangements, and with Kuusisto’s Finnish compatriot Lilli Maijala as violist, and with the Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja - who inherited a wider musical perspective from her cimbalom-playing father – these are all seasoned innovators.
Their Wigmore debut was non-standard from the start, as Kuusisto - backed by Wispelwey looking quizzical, Kopatchinskaja intense in a green ball-dress, and Maijala got up like a peasant from a Diaghilev ballet - announced that they’d intersperse the main works of the programme with others they’d just decided on. But first they played Mozart’s ever-popular “Divertimento in D K136”, written when he was sixteen, and still in debate as to whether he intended it for a quartet or a small orchestra. The way quartet-lab attacked it made it sound like an orchestra anyway, so full-blooded was their sound; intermittent rough edges were a small trade-off for the general gutsy swing.
Then Kuusisto and Kopatchinskaja delivered three of Bartok’s “Duos for 2 violins” – the first sounding like interlaced female voices, the second like bagpipes, and the third in crazy pizzicato – after which viola and cello joined them for a hushed arrangement of Byrd’s “Sanctus”, for which they bleached their tone to imitate viols.
Seguing straight from that into Beethoven’s terse and mysterious “Serioso” quartet was a coup de theatre, and for the first movement their sound had all the muddy savagery which could be desired. If they short-changed us on the beauty of the majestic Allegretto melody, they made up for it with a ferocious finale, complete with clouds of flying bow-hair.
The second half was just as riveting, starting with two more Bartok duos (this time with viola and violin, creating a new texture) followed by the lament from Britten’s “Cello Suite”, before seguing – as though it was the most natural thing in the world – into a performance of that composer’s “String Quartet No 2”, where their combined virtuosity took the breath away.
For an encore they hoicked a young violist out of the audience to play the monotone solo part in Purcell’s slitheringly plangent “Fantasia upon one note”, as Britten himself had once done. An evening and a half.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 North Korean prison officers 'cooked prisoner's baby and fed it to their dogs', more horrific accounts from UN report reveal
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Mayor says there should be 'no comparison' to Ferguson
- 4 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 5 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever