The Wihan Quartet

Concert date: 21 March 2015
Reviewed by: JRC

What made the Wihan's programme special one might ask? Well, when written, the compositions had been noted as pushing the boundaries, particularly Mozart's String Quartet No. 15 from his 'Haydn Quartets', and Beethoven's String Quartet No 7, a 'Rasumovsky Quartet', the latter considered to be greatly ahead of its time. But another element could have added an extra frisson to the Beethoven, and Smetana's String Quartet No 1 'From my Life': both of these works were written when their composers tragically had become deaf.

And then we had the Wihan's live performance: it was exceptional.

Their treatment of the Mozart was a delight with fine attention to detailed phrasing executed with such compelling vitality that there was no chance of its feeling precious. This was late Mozart, the rendering of which anticipated the romantics.

Next, how appropriate that the Smetana was being performed for us by a Czech quartet; this music is in their blood. Their souls were bared with dramatic accelerandos and rallentandos, seemingly the most natural things in the world. We experienced a full gamut of emotions in this autobiographical work that even portrays the shock of Smetana's sudden deafness. From the dramatic and foreboding chords starting the first movement, we moved through turbulence, youthful vibrancy, a sedate section, and on to extremes of romance followed by maturity; only to be cut down into nostalgia and resignation.

Beethoven followed; chronologically out of place, but musically probably the most advanced piece of the programme. The Wihan gave us a superb opening living crescendo that set the scene of wondrous diversity in the first and second movements. Melancholy pervaded the third; not an easy emotion with which to hold an audience, but the Wihan skilfully carried us through to the cheerful finale [which Beethoven had almost certainly incorporated to please the commissioning Russian Ambassador Count Rasumovky, and us!].

The audience called for, and got, an encore. Jaw-droppingly, their choice was the last movement of Janáček's String Quartet No. 2 - "Intimate Letters". This really had the wow factor; emotions heightened and every nerve- ending jangled.

Mozart, Smetana, Beethoven and Janacek could not have asked for any better performance of their creations.