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Wu Quartet concert: review

We’re asking a knowledgeable regular concertgoer to give an independent impression of each of our concerts this year.  To start the series, here is our Patron David Mintz’s review of the first concert in the season.

Wu Quartet: St Mary’s Cratfield, Sunday 6 July 2014

The opening 2014 concert of Concerts at Cratfield at St Mary’s Church was dedicated to the late David Holmes, who passed away earlier in the year. David, together with his wife Linda, founded the concert series in 1988.  My wife and I discovered the concerts at Cratfield in 1999 when David Holmes heroically put on the complete 15 string quartets of Shostakovich over one weekend.  It was a weekend we will never forget!

The opening concert this year was given by the young, and prize-winning, Wu Quartet, named after its leader, Qian Wu.  Wu has a lovely sounding violin tone and blends in beautifully with the other three members of the Quartet. I also particularly liked the sound of the cellist Joe Zeitlin, who offered some deep burnished tones throughout the afternoon.

The programme was a generous one, not only offering the standard issue of three quartets but adding a short fourth work, the Schubert quartet movement in C minor (Quartettsatz).  It felt even shorter this afternoon as the repeat of the first section was not taken. However, it was beautifully played by the Wu and they brought out the dramatic nature of the piece.

The concert opened with a rare Haydn quartet in F sharp minor, op 50 no 4. The Wu played it with excellent balance and poise, and I thoroughly enjoyed their reading of the piece, despite their taking the finale’s fugal movement at more of a presto than the allegro moderato marked in the score.

It was a rare pleasure to hear a live performance of Tippett’s string quartet no 2.  Probably one of the reasons it’s not programmed more often is because of the difficulty of playing the piece, especially the 1st movement, which is derived from madrigal technique where each part may have its own rhythm and the music is propelled by the differing accents, which tend to thrust each other forward.  But it’s not a difficult piece to listen to at all, as it’s full of joy and exaltation, a particular Tippett hallmark of this period of his creative life.  The Wu did the piece proud and they did indeed exalt in the 1st movement.  They perhaps started the 2nd movement a little slower than the marked andante, but they certainly took the many markings in this movement of espressivo literally, which made for a beautiful listening experience.

The concert concluded with one of Mendelssohn’s great string quartets, op 44 no 1; following the three minor key works, we were firmly in D major. The two outer movements are full of energy and exuberance and the Wu played them as a quartet possessed, with fire and passion.  I’m just sorry that they decided not to take the repeat in the 1st movement.  The 1st violin’s virtuoso part in the 2nd movement was expressively done and the lovely slow movement was elegantly phrased.  I never would have associated Mendelssohn with Tippett, but both composers have the ability to make their music lyrical with passionate abandonment and being able to express otherworldly magic so beautifully.

David Mintz

6 July 2014