- String Quartet
Belcea Quartet reviews / press
Following Laura's departure and a long search for her successor we are now very happy to announce the appointment of Axel Schacher as the Belcea Quartet's new second violinist. Axel is an outstanding 29-year old French/Swiss violinist. He has held the position of the first concertmaster of the SinfonieorchesterBasel since 2003. We invited Axel to join us for a period of concerts in June 2010. Following this period both we and Axel felt very happy about the prospect of a musical future together. We look forward to opening our 2010/2011 season in this new formation. BQ
East Neuk Festival - Summer 2010
Music on a grand scale is a recurring theme at this year's East Neuk festival. The event that has built its name programming chamber music in intimate, interesting venues throughout this corner of Fife is exploring the boundaries of the genre with concerts that include Mozart's Gran' Partita, Beethoven's massive Diabelli Variations and even Strauss's Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings. The opening concert provided a taste of things to come with the Belcea Quartet and London Winds performing two monumental works: the A minor String Quartet, Op 51, No 2 by Brahms and Schubert's largest piece of chamber music, the Octet.
The A minor quartet might be written for more conventional forces than Schubert's Octet, but this is still chamber music on a grand scale to which the Belcea Quartet responded accordingly with a lushly sonorous account. Beauty of sound was absolutely fundamental to this performance. Although, out of sight, it was a keen sense of the work's structure that shaped and guided the performance.
The performance of Schubert's Octet that followed was a study in character variation. Schubert writes for strings and wind as collaborators and opposites, a characteristic that came across brilliantly in this performance. The polish of the quartet and the rustic trio of clarinet, bassoon and horn alternately contrasted and matched each other, while Stacey Watton's charismatic double bass functioned as something of a mediating force. The result was a performance that was never less than engrossing.
The Guardian, 2nd July 2010
Schubert: String Quintet; String Quartets in D minor & G, EMI
Three great works played exceedingly well by this splendid quartet and recorded with the right degree of intimacy. The extra cellist is Valentin Erben. Performances like this make one marvel afresh at the combination of melodic fecundity with an emotional depth that leaves the listener drained at every hearing. The breadth of phrasing accorded to the quintet is masterly and is carried over into both the G major quartet (D887) and the Death and the Maiden (D810).
Michael Kennedy, The Sunday Telegraph, 28th March 2010
Three of the greatest works in the string chamber repertoire, played by an outstandingly talented and perceptive young quartet - it's an appetite-whetting prospect.
Stephen Johnson, BBC Music Magazine
One measure of a fine performance is whether something is revealed that you never noticed before. There are two such passages on this superbly played recording: in the Finale of the Quintet, the viola has an emphatic repeated figure in octaves, independent of the dialogues in the other parts; and in the Finale of 'Death and the Maiden', it's the viola again, bringing out a major-key version of the opening phrase...nothing but praise.
RL, Classic FM Magazine
The Belcea’s urgent reading of the quintet’s opening (quicker and spikier than usual) establishes instantly the music’s deeply ambiguous character. Schubert’s chamber-music swansong is not a serene work. The players, while alive to its beauties and sublimities, have no time for the old fallacy about the supposed light-hearted mood of the finale, which ends — rightly — on a note of violent tension. The obsessive rhythms and harmonic disruptions of both quartets are also vividly caught. There are some rough sounds in the more vehement fortissimos, and the Belcea’s admirable concern with extreme dynamic contrast sometimes tempts them to play too quietly (the G major finale’s spectral C sharp minor passage is barely audible), but these are excusable in performances of such high voltage.
David Cairns, The Sunday Times, 22nd November 2009
If all you want is a strong performance of "Death and the Maiden", you will have a hard time choosing between the Belcea Quartet's latest recording and last year's release from the Jerusalem Quartet.
Here, however, the harrowing intensity of Schubert's most famous string quartet is extended through the severe beauty of the Quartet in G (awkwardly divided over two discs) and the epic narrative of the Quintet in C, where cellist Valentin Erben matches the lean, concentrated Belcea sound in long, intelligent phrases.
Anna Picard, Independent on Sunday, 22nd November 2009
...the set is undeniably attractive, for the Belcea Quartet's performances of all three works are beautifully judged and technically polished. There's something refreshingly brisk and business-like about their approach, resisting all temptations to dwell on the more lyrical episodes of the quintet adn the G major quartet, concentrating instead on making even Schubert's most discursive passages taut and cogent.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 27th November 2009
This is Schubert played with heart-stopping freshness, the composer as romantic rather than classicist...The players plunge to the extremes of Schubert's precise dynamic markings and contrasts...In the two quartets, the Belceas make the most of the G major's dramatic flourishes and the D minor's tragic intensity. Superb.
Nicholas Kenyon, The Observer, 29th November 2009
BBC Proms, Lunchtime recital
This recital found an imaginative way of incorporating two of the four Proms 'anniversary' composers. One creator relatively scarce in appearances this year is Benjamin Britten, whose second published string quartet was written in 1945 to mark the 250th-anniversary of the death of Henry Purcell (born 1659, 350 years ago).
The work was his most substantial in the idiom, with the Purcellian tribute most explicit in the third movement Chaconne, a tour de force of compositional prowess longer than the previous two movements combined. Those two movements build considerable tension in different ways – an atmospheric Allegro and febrile scherzo.
The Belcea Quartet, long familiar with music they recorded in 2004, gave a performance of exceptional dynamic contrasts, capturing the sense of far-off intimacy that can be felt when listening to this vividly descriptive music. The ccherzo was particularly tight, the tense sound secured by the musicians playing loudly while using mutes, bows near to the bridges. In the Allegro Britten's wide range of expressive devices were brilliantly employed without being obviously spotlit, and Corina Belcea-Fischer's portamento near the end was perfectly judged.
As the Chaconne unfolded there was a real sense of gravity from the stern opening statement of the theme, with its jagged rhythms. Each of the three instrumental cadenzas was strategically used by cello, viola and first violin in turn, and the obsessive dotted rhythms taking over after the cello cadenza were particularly striking. A powerfully affecting performance was crowned by the emphatic, double-stopped C major chords that made for a strongly affirmative conclusion.
Prior to the Britten, second violinist Laura Samuel and viola player Krzysztof Chorzelski spoke of their love of Haydn, with Chorzelski picking out the composer's light hearted humour in the Opus 50/Number 4 string quartet. While there was humour in this performance there was more of a real sense of Sturm und Drang, a tension aided by the composer's unusual choice of key.
As the players noted, this Haydn quartet has acquired an unofficial nickname of 'Graveyard', due to its abundance of 'sharps' in the keys used, yet the members of the Belcea Quartet were secure in their tuning throughout. Delighting in the transformation from darkness to light of the first movement, they gave a sweetly phrased Andante and charming Minuet, the dance rhythms affectionately pointed by Samuel in particular. A strident fugue, with which the finale began, merely added to the sense that here was a work containing many pointers to a more-mature style of the writing of string quartets.
Ben Hogwood, http://www.classicalsource.com