Belcea Quartet

(Corina Belcea and Laura Samuel, violins; Krzysztof
Chorzelski, viola; Antoine Lederlin, cello), a CAMA/MasterSeries
concert. At the Lobero Theatre, Monday, March 6.

The quartet got off to a good start with a lovely and lively
performance of Mozart’s String Quartet in D Major, K. 499. Indeed,
the quartet played beautifully, with feeling and dazzling skill,
throughout the concert.

Is there anything interesting left to say about Mozart that has
not already been said? I live in hope, but I haven’t come up with
anything yet. During the first piece, I wrote on my program: “The
Belcea set a brisk pace in the Mozart — would we later, becalmed in
Britten, come to regret their haste?”

Not for the first time, I could echo Laurie Anderson’s “Oh boy!
Right again!”

Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 3, Opus 94 is of a piece
with the great mass of his output. It’s not that the music is
offensive — it doesn’t make me want to clap my hands over my ears
to keep it out. And the sheer confidence of his unmelodiousness is
impressive. (He seems to actually have a melodic idea sometimes,
but he quickly withdraws it, almost with embarrassment.) When
something slips out that sounds like a tune, after a few notes you
realize it is just a line on a graph.

The only time that the Belcea actually irritated me was when
they froze at the end of the Britten — like something cosmic had
just gone down and they wanted to give us a chance to let it sink
in. But the only thing that had gone down was my spirits. What
colossal pretension!

If Britten composes with invisible ink, Shostakovich does it
with a branding iron. Even when he is in one of his rare diffuse
moods, as in the rambling String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Opus 73,
he is always compelling. The second movement of this quartet starts
with an interval that is aggressively, almost militantly odd. As if
to underscore the oddness, the ensemble slowed to a Boris Karloff,
stiff-limbed lurch — to very good effect. Yet, I confess that even
so ardent a Shostakovian as I lost track at several points, and
wondered where all this was going. The group froze again into a
tableau at the end. There was a protracted silence, and finally the
Belcea had to rise to signal the applause to start. These
youngsters are marvelous musicians, but they could use a little
help with their programming. ■


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