In the domain of string quartets, a new ensemble must bring something special to the repertoire and to its playing to be noticed. After all, there are many quartets out there vying for attention both old and established and new and eager to become established.
Among the newer groups that have made a name for themselves is the Belcea Quartet. In the 14 years since it was founded, the group has risen quickly to the top of its profession. It is without question one of the best of the younger quartets.
What makes this foursome (violinists Corina Belcea-Fisher and Laura Samuel; violist Krzysztof Chorzelski; and cellist Antoine Lederlin) special is simple they bring a freshness to their playing that makes the music seem new, and they bring an authority to their readings that is impressive.
Their playing is artistically sound and technically assured. They bring polish and eloquence to their interpretations it is expressive, well-defined, multi-dimensional and irresistably dynamic and compelling.
The British group is currently on tour in the United States, and Wednesday it finally made its local debut in Libby Gardner Concert Hall, thanks to the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City. And after hearing them live, one can only hope this is but the first of many appearances here.
The program the foursome brought with them on this tour (and which they're playing at each of their nine concerts) is quite demanding. Not only are they doing Schubert's daunting G major Quartet, D. 887, but also Beethoven's E flat major Quartet, op. 127. Just one of these works would be musically rewarding. Having both on the same program is divine.
The Belcea gave a radiant performance of the G major Quartet that brought out the expansiveness of the thematic development wonderfully. Its interpretation was nuanced, capturing as it did the subtle harmonic inflections and all of the expressive subtleties as well. Changes in tempo, dynamics and mood were dramatic (notably in the slow movement), but never overstated. It was a convincing performance that was intelligent, sincere and honest.
The quartet's reading of the Beethoven was no less on the mark. In his late quartets, Beethoven expands the form tremendously to the point where the individual movements seem to take on a life of their own. In the op. 127, this is nowhere more true than in the second movement set of variations, which seem to go on forever. And the Belcea captured the expansiveness wonderfully. The group played it seamlessly with exquisitely shaded expressiveness and with poetic eloquence.
Opening the concert was Schubert's delightful unfinished Quartet in C minor ("Quartettensatz"). The performance was artfully crafted and executed. With its vibrant and dynamic playing, the Belcea's reading brought wonderfully textured and emotionally charged romanticism to the piece.