10th London International String Quartet Competition
London String Quartet Week Royal Academy of Music & Wigmore Hall 4th - 10th April 2006
Asasello Quartet (Germany), Bronte Quartet (UK), Carducci String Quartet (UK), Enso String Quartet (USA), Formosa Quartet (USA/Taiwan), Lloyd Carr-Harris String Quartet (Canada), Nador Quartet (Hungary), Navarra Quartet (UK), Pavao String Quartet (UK), Quatuor Modigliani (France), Sacconi Quartet (UK), TinAlley String Quartet (Australia), Zemlinsky Quartet (ex-Penguin Quartet, Czech Republic)
Members of the 2006 International Jury: Josef Kluson (viola, Prazak Quartet, Czech Republic), Martin Lovett OBE (cello, Amadeus Quartet, UK), Eckart Runge (cello, Artemis Quartet, Germany), Peter Salaff (violin, Cleveland Quartet, USA), Are Sandbakken (viola, Oslo String Quartet, Norway), Kazuki Sawa (violin, Sawa Quartet, Japan), John Fraser (Director, Recorded Productions, EMI Classics, UK), Annette Mangold (Director of Artistic Planning, Vienna Konzerthaus, Austria) and Georges Zeisel (Director, ProQuartet, France)
The Invitation Jury invited thirteen quartets to London to compete this year, and during the preliminary round at RAM I sampled the playing of about half of those. Each quartet gave two hour-long recitals, including their choices of any one of Haydn's Op 64 or Op 76, one of the ten late Mozart quartets, plus Wolf Italian Serenade in G major, Webern Six Bagatelles Op 9 and Kurtag Twelve Microludes Op 13, the last three of which were the Competition set pieces.
So during the first four days the eminent 9-strong jury listened to 26 recitals, some in the acoustically suitable Duke's Hall, most in the cramped and overcrowded David Josfowitz Hall which, so great was the public interest, had to adopt a queuing system - five out after a session, five in!
I thought five of those quartets I heard during this stage excellent and two superlative; only one left me wondering why they had been invited, but it was good to have explored the range of talent, as I had done in each of the previous competitions since it moved from Portsmouth to London, first to Goldsmith's Hall, latterly to RAM.
Of the two we had heard in the Preliminary Round whom we rated "superlative", the Zemlinsky Quartet went on to win Third Prize and the Audience Prize in the finals but the other (Asasello Quartet, currently based in Cologne) fell by the wayside at the first hurdle. We had enjoyed both in Haydn Op 76, the Zemlinskys for eye contact mediated by the 2nd violinist, the Asasellos for a perceived quality of 'thinking' whilst playing, as against replicating a digitally perfected interpretation. Both gave pleasure in the well chosen set pieces, the Asasellos marginally more for their joyous, high risk Wolf Italian Serenade and for a subtlety in Webern's tiny Bagatelles which brought smiles of delight.
Both of these splendid ensembles have CDs for sale which quartet fanciers would do well to acquire.
Results Sunday 9th April:
The winners of the Tenth London International String Quartet Competition
Second Prize went to the Sacconi Quartet (UK), who also won the Esterhazy
Third Prize and the Audience Prize went to the Zemlinsky Quartet (Czech
The Jury decided to award a Special Commendation Prize to the Carducci
Martin Lovett (cellist of the legendary Amadeus Quartet, which gave its debut recital in Wigmore Hall 1948) spoke of the rising standards and the "pain" for the unfortunates. Also how string quartet playing ought not to be a competitive sport - wishful thinking in the present competitive climate in which musicians of superb accomplishment cannot even be assured of making a living! By way of consolation he told us that Andras Schiff had got 5th Prize at Leeds, and Norbert Brainin failed his LRAM !!
Having not been able to attend every session to hear all the thirteen competing quartets through three gruelling rounds, as had the Jury of nine experts, it would be invidious to comment upon the results save to say that they were controversial...
My own vote at the Final for the Audience Prize went to the Sacconi Quartet for a riveting account of Britten's still challenging 2nd Quartet; remarkable to recall that at its first performance (Zorian Quartet, November 21, 1945) those of us present in Wigmore Hall found the glissandi passage in the first movement bizarre, indeed freakish - extended string techniques had not yet jumped across the Channel from Europe!
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I have attended and reviewed every competition held in London since 1991. For an overview of this illustrious competition founded by Sir Yehudi Menuhin and Richard Sotnick in Portsmouth 1977, please click onto my link to the 9th LISQ competition, which includes Appendices about the THE COMPETITION PROCESS, the most subtle and transparent of any I have encountered (c.p. our analysis of the marking of an international choir competition in Rhodes).
I have indexed this report under Festivals as well as Competitions, because of the lively mix of events and other activities surrounding the competitive sessions. Those included:
Members of the 2006 International Jury were: Josef Kluson (viola, Prazak Quartet, Czech Republic), Martin Lovett OBE (cello, Amadeus Quartet, UK), Eckart Runge (cello, Artemis Quartet, Germany), Peter Salaff (violin, Cleveland Quartet, USA), Are Sandbakken (viola, Oslo String Quartet, Norway), Kazuki Sawa (violin, Sawa Quartet, Japan), John Fraser (Director, Recorded Productions, EMI Classics, UK), Annette Mangold (Director of Artistic Planning, Vienna Konzerthaus, Austria) and Georges Zeisel (Director, ProQuartet, France)
The Final was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 12 April and can be heard online until next Wednesday at
One response below; Musical Pointers would welcome further reactions from e-listeners?
- - hearing one work being played by each ensemble in the final round is an insufficient basis for making a rounded judgement.
Your written words about the Zemlinksy, together with the performance I heard this evening, will prompt me to enquire of their agents as to whether any tours of Britain are planned in 07/08.
Header drawing Peter Brookes: Hagen Quartet (Winners + Audience Prize 1982)
© Peter Grahame Woolf