Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Chiaroscuro Quartet @ Wigmore Hall, London

12 December 2021

Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall (Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

Superb performances of two Beethoven string quartets make for the perfect Sunday morning. 

One expects any ensemble that is performing at the Wigmore Hall to be together, to listen to each other and to work as one. Even allowing for this, however, there feels something remarkable about the extent to which the Chiaroscuro Quartet does all of these things, as the precision on display in this Sunday morning concert was matched by similarly high levels of feeling in the playing.

The main piece presented, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13 in B flat Op. 130 (1825-26), revealed all of the group’s skills from the start. The first movement’s Adagio ma non troppo and Allegro demonstrated so much about the ensemble’s ability to manage with staggering smoothness different tempi, textures and moods. A notable feature in this movement and throughout the performance was the manner in which all of the players remained so rhythmically aware so that everything felt impeccably tight as different instruments took the lead or passed it on again. In this respect, the interaction between the violins of Alina Ibragimova and Pablo Hernán Benedí was absolutely key as they clearly fed off each other, but the sense of togetherness radiated equally across all four players, which included Emilie Hörnlund on viola and Claire Thirion on cello.

“…the precision on display in this Sunday morning concert was matched by similarly high levels of feeling in the playing”

The Presto felt imbued with intrigue as the quartet gave it the pace and intensity it needed, without ever making it sound rushed. It was also in its element in acutely capturing the interaction between the bowing and pizzicato playing in the Andante con moto ma mon troppo. The fourth movement was carried off equally assuredly, with the Alla danza tedesca combining excellent rhythmic awareness with a lightness of touch. The fifth movement’s Cavatina sounded divine while both the Allegro and Finale of the sixth movement contrasted the quieter moments of intrigue with the rushes of excitement to excellent effect. In fact, what made the performance so accomplished was the fact that it combined technical mastery of the work with a huge dose of drama and excitement. Decked out in pink and black, the players, with one obvious exception, stood, which certainly helped them to dig deep and move with the music. There were also moments when players had their eyes shut, so caught up were they with feeling for what they were playing.

The beginning of the concert, however, did not go without its hitches. An additional, and seemingly unplanned, tuning session turned out to be fortunate because it meant a bleeper that went off disturbed this and not the start of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 10 in E flat Op. 74 ‘Harp’ (1809). Then several minutes into the first movement the cellist’s bow snapped at the tip plate that joins the wood and horsehair, rendering it instantly unusable in a rare event that could neither have been anticipated or guarded against. After finding a replacement, however, the quartet began the piece once more to deliver a performance that was just as accomplished and moving as that which was to follow.

For details of all of the Chiaroscuro Quartet’s recordings and future events visit chiaroscuroquartet.com

For dates and details of all of the upcoming Sunday morning concerts visit the Wigmore Hall website.

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Chiaroscuro Quartet @ Wigmore Hall, London