Beauty comes from pain. When Corina Belcea elicits sweet lamentations from her violin and the Belcea Quartet intervenes harshly, one senses the price of beauty. Whereby the transition is seldom abrupt: in Beethoven’s Rasumowsky Quartet No. 1, which can be heard during the ensemble’s guest performance in the Berlin Chamber Music Hall after the interval, the steely sounds dissolve as if of their own accord. Conversely, Antoine Lederlin’s delicate cello cantilena in the opening movement organically gives way to a spirited agitato.
The legendary homogeneity of the Romanian-Polish-French ensemble based in London never denies the individuality of the Belcea members. Here the four strings don’t just play as if they were made of one piece or even subordinate themselves to the dictates of harmony. Each part remains clearly contoured, even at the unison beginning of the capriccio of Haydn’s C major Quartet Op. 20 No. 2.
Belcea’s lyrical first violin, the cuddly second violin by Sébastien Surel, who stepped in for the ailing Axel Schacher, the alert drama of the violist Krzysztof Chorzelski, Lederlin’s rapturous and melancholic cello – they lean towards each other, form alliances, sometimes swap roles.
The art of playing softly, which the Belcea Quartet last demonstrated in Berlin in March with a Brahms-Schubert program in the Boulez Saal, is paired this time with sheer unheard-of expressivity. Rarely has one heard it so harshly, that outburst of rage with the brutally insistent tutti beats in Dmitri Shostakovich’s C minor Quartet op. 110, which follow the sonorous DSCH head motif and the chromatically colored violin elegies in Jewish folk tones. The quartet literally makes the music burst.
The work has the character of a confession. The composer, who was harassed by Stalin’s regime, put his tribulations into words, the lack of freedom, the resignation and the forced, at times grotesque-seeming followers, as well as the defense of freedom at a lost battle. The Belcea Quartet brings out the physicality of the composition, the grotesqueness, Shostakovich’s cynicism, but also the fear of perseverance and going on. Up to the final diminuendo in the Largo, in which the four restless spirits stop time: trembling death, eloquent silence – the air in the hall is still trembling long after the last note has faded away.
They go about their work with Beethoven with similar passion and yet full of love for the filigree, when the viola sets the childishly bold rhythm of the allegretto beginning, which remains on one note, or the two violins agree to meet in the Adagio for the night of love. Bows gently stroking the strings, intimate dialogue – here the conversation among friends takes on intimate erotic traits.
The cheers of the audience are followed by the Andantino from Debussy’s G minor string quartet as an encore. another night song doucement expressive – with a solo second violin. Thanks also to the stand-in Surel, who congenially supports the unanimity of the Belcea Quartet, which has been refined since its foundation in 1994.
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