15 February, 2009

Concert Review: Zehetmair Quartet

Concert Review: Zehetmair Quartet

Feb 15, 2009, CH

I sat upstairs. If not for the large number of (surprisingly well behaved) students it would have been fairly empty. The less-than-ideal attendance can be attributed both to the unusual program and to the relatively low profile of the quartet in the music world. They deserve more.

The quartet played without a score. I read from the net they even played standing up before. That's commitment! And that is fully reflected in the excellent playing.

Program opened with a minor Mozart in G, K156. It was a rather free interpretation, pulled to probe hidden depths, with only intermittent success. Although sometimes mannered and phrasing lacked Mozartian grace, it was apparent the quartet excelled in ensemble. Thomas Zehetmair was sharp, muscular and gratifyingly steady in intonation. Violist Ruth Killius was really dynamite, with a big and varied tone that was always ready to point a phrase. Cellist Ursula Smith was also excellent, though taking rein less often. Although a very fine violinist, Kuba Jakowicz was a little too reticent for my taste, only heard mostly in inner voices.

Ensuing was a rarity in concert, the Hindemith Fourth Quartet. This more structured piece showcased the quartet's high degree of finish in ensemble and straightforwardness. I enjoyed it immensely, even found the central slow movement strabgely beautiful, though I'd not be surprised if most people found it rather dry.

The quartet is perhaps most famous for its Schumann, and they certainly showed why. The Schumann quartets can sound meandering in lesser hands, but this ensemble certainly injected purpose and momentum into the proceedings, and just would not let your mind wander off (a friend complained the scherzo was too fast). While they did not really pause much to smell the flowers, neither did they slight style, bringing out moments of Mendelssonian quicksilver as well as Beethovenian gravitas (this is referring to the excellent program note, which mentioned them, rightly for this performance) .

As champions of less played works, it was entirely in character for them to offer as encore the scherzo from Bruckner's (early) quartet. It came as a little surprise that the playing here was fully romantic. That's quite a treat for this die-hard bruckner fan.

Discussing the performances with KL, I remarked to that Zehetmair may be a vegetarian, to which KL answered, "likely practising yoga for concentration!" I think he may have a point there.

For me, this string quartet is one of the best, far outstripping in ensemble the Hagen, Petersen and Emerson that have visited HK. It is very different from the sonorous Borodin, but I find them refreshing.

p.s. Apparently this exact program had been played much elsewhere, and there are interesting and detailed reviews on the net. Click here for a detailed review. Also, Time Out has reviewed the concert.

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