14 June 2011
There was a good-sized audience for this concert - not surprising after the Brentano's fine concert in 2007 - and it was treated to a beautifully balanced, staggeringly well-played programme.
Haydn's Quartet in D minor Op 103 is really just two movements from his last year, and they reveal a wise composer offering some personal thoughts of sublime invention.
The quartet offered a postscript in the form of an arrangement of a 1803 chorale, Der Greis, and together there was a satisfying balance, supported by wonderful playing.
Stephen Hartke's 2009 Night Songs for a Desert Flower is four pieces described by the composer as "a book of madrigals for string quartet", and they have a simplicity within a refined style, reminiscent, at times, of Debussy's String Quartet in its key-free tonality. Again, beautifully played, with a refinement of sound that was completely disarming.
The second half revealed that the Brentano's reputation in the late quartets of Beethoven was completely justified. The great A minor Quartet Op 132 presents huge challenges to musicians, but here we heard playing that was from the top drawer. With the great Adagio at its heart, the quartet was revealed without stress but with some extraordinary tension.
The playing was both knowing and refined - it would have been a revelation for those for whom Beethoven's late works have proved intransigent.
At the end of the concert it was worth reflecting on string quartet playing that, even in a world full of great quartets, was completely special.