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Beethoven String Quartets Op 18 No 3, Op 130 and Op 135

Orion String Quartet

Beethoven Unwrapped season;
Kings Place, London 22 October 2008

Following its brilliant Opening Festival, Kings Place has settled down to serious business, with a massive eight weeks series of Beethoven; recitals, study days, talks and films and master classes.

The string quartets are in the safe hands of the Orion Quartet of New York, who go back to the time of Sandor Vegh at Prussia Cove and have released their whole Beethoven cycle on CD.

Of particular interest is that the violinists are brothers and share the leader's seat. Kings Place Hall 1 is unforgiving, and younger brother Daniel Phillips' E string was unpleasantly strident* heard from our seats in Row J of the stalls, marring an otherwise vigorous and confident account of Op 18/3. Near perfection was achieved in Op 135, led by the bearded older brother, Todd, in which the quartet achieved excellent balance and warm corporate tone.

Daniel resumed the driving seat for Op 130, and the problem was far less obtrusive than before; it was a fine account and for once we felt that substituting for the original Grosse Fuge the light Allego finale was right, emphasising the wit and divertimento like character of the middle movements; save for the intensity of the Adagio molto espressivo Cavatina - wonderful to have on the same evening that and the heart warming Lento assai, cantate e tranquillo of Op 135, both of them placed as penultimate movements.

The hall was little more than half full; this wall-to-wall Beethoven Unwrapped will either catch on or realise the fears of many commentators that London may be unready to support another major concert venue; a crucial test will be whether the loyal Sunday evening audience for the Conway Hall Sunday Evenings concerts will find their way to Kings Cross?

The Orion's cycle will be completed on 31st January 2009 with Op. 130/133 - tickets £19.50 - £34.50 from www.kingsplace.co.uk; £2 off online.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* See also Fiona Maddocks: "slightly edgy - - metallic tinny glare"