Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Brentano String Quartet review – Beethoven with a sprinkling of Purcell, Bach and MacMillan at the Wigmore Hall

21 January 2024


One piece dominated this delightful Sunday morning concert.

Brentano String Quartet

Brentano String Quartet (Photo: Jürgen Frank)

Because they comprise just four instruments with each possessing its own line, there is a certain feeling of purity that derives from the music of a string quartet. That sense of the ultimate goes further when the ensemble’s programme is dominated by a single piece, and one from a composer whose standing in the genre is simply beyond question. It is therefore unsurprising that an hour long concert in which the Brentano String Quartet revealed a special affinity with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130 (1825-26) should feel as persuasive as it did. 

That the ensemble had the measure of the piece was obvious from the start as in the first movement’s Adagio ma non troppo the cleanness of sound in the individual lines was matched by the sheer extent of the precision across the four parts. Most noticeable was the pace, which enabled the lines to feel expansive but never overindulgent. This meant that a whole range of colours and textures could be brought to the fore both within and across the individual lines, with the attention to detail feeling quite breathtaking. There was something particularly notable about the way in which the utmost delicacy could be applied to even the most vibrant of phrases. 

“…there is a certain feeling of purity that derives from the music of a string quartet”

The Presto was captured especially well, while the opening to the Andante con moto ma non troppo felt exquisite. The dance-like qualities of the Alla danza tedesca were brought out to the full, with the lines being so well thought through that they truly felt interwoven. In the Cavatina a real feeling of security was brought to the players’ expressiveness, while in the Finale the lightness of rhythm combined with just enough sense of depth to the sound to make for a stunning close to the quartet.   

The concert began with two short pieces, Purcell’s Fantasia a4 No. 11 in G Z742 (1680) and J. S. Bach’s Contrapunctus 7 from Art of Fugue BWV1080 (by 1742, rev. 1745-49). However, while it was entirely appropriate to apply the same level of expansiveness to these as to the Beethoven, the result did not feel quite the same as they lacked just a little in terms of sharpness in the execution. Nevertheless, the tone achieved was highly affecting, and there were no problems at all with James MacMillan’s Memento (1994), a beautifully delicate piece in which the cello at times sounds like an upper string, which was performed by way of an encore. 

• For details of all of the Brentano String Quartet’s recordings and future events visit its website.

• For details of all upcoming Sunday morning concerts at the venue visit the Wigmore Hall website.


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Brentano String Quartet review – Beethoven with a sprinkling of Purcell, Bach and MacMillan at the Wigmore Hall