Pacifica Quartet, Wigmore Hall, London
Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment/Norrington, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Monday 16 February 2009
Performing end-to-end the five string quartets that Elliott Carter composed between 1951-95 might seem simply too much, with their over two hours of unremitting musical invention, harmonic dissonance and expressive intensity. But that would be to reckon without the astonishing virtuosity and insight of the Pacifica Quartet.
What singles out the approach of these four players to this supremely demanding repertoire is their exceptional ability to characterise the musical material – already evident in the eloquence and gestural energy with which cellist Brandon Vamos launched the vast, craggy structure of the String Quartet No 1 (1951). Indeed, in his String Quartet No 2 (1959) Carter imbues each of the four instruments with a different "personality". With Simin Ganatra's temperamental first violin contending with Masumi Per Rostad's romantically sighing viola, while Sibbi Bernhardsson's second violin doggedly proceeded its own way, Carter's "scenario for the players to act out with their instruments" was vividly realised.
Rarely can a standing ovation have been more arduously gained and genuinely deserved.
At Queen Elizabeth Hall, a bicentenary disinterring of Haydn's Il ritorno di Tobia rapidly established that its lengthy score contains scarcely a dull moment. It is less a dramatic oratorio than a leisurely sacred opera seria, with its dramatic events mostly happening off-stage, but reflected in a profusion of long and florid arias.
It was helped on this occasion by a lustrous line-up of soloists, led by the suavely lyric tenor of Andrew Kennedy as Tobias, with the young soprano Lucy Crowe silvery-toned as his hard-won wife Sara, and the powerful Christopher Maltman as his father – plus the marvellously stylish Swedish mezzo Ann Hallenberg as Tobit's doubting wife Anna, and the radiant Rachel Nicholls as 'Azaria' aka the Archangel Rafael, who motivates the whole thing.
Above all, this is a work by the young Haydn, which means every recitative is alive with unexpected twists, every chorus differently characterised, and every aria purposefully shaped. And so the notion of Haydn as box office death suffers a blow.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
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 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre