Belcea Quartet at the Library of Congress

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Belcea Quartet gave a very strong account of itself at the Library of Congress on Thursday evening. Although this British group is now 15 years old, it has not been a major presence in the United States despite numerous award-winning recordings. One hopes this will change: On the evidence of this performance, the Belcea is one of the top quartets before the public today.

String quartets generally fall into one of two types: groups with a dominant player (usually but not always the first violin) whose style and personality stamps their interpretations; and groups in which all subsume themselves equally into a unitary corporate product. The Belcea is of the latter cast and has forged a sleek, impressively integrated style. While there is a certain tightness in players' left hands, bespeaking extreme care with intonation, the payoff was in striking clarity and glistening textures. The intensity of the inner voices in the Haydn Op. 50, No. 4, quartet, and the lapidary polish of every musical detail throughout, made for an arresting opening. The Prokofiev Quartet No. 1 featured amazing virtuosity and precision.

You may have heard some of the individual solos in the Schubert "Death and the Maiden" Quartet played with more color and flair by others, but it's unlikely you've ever heard such perfect matching of pitch, bow strokes and tone colors. In particular, the Belcea's complex shadings of Schubert's softer dynamics were revelatory. This concert was one of the season's highlights.

-- Robert Battey

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