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Beethoven String Quartets
Op.18 No.1 in F; Op.14 No.1 in E; Op.59 No.1 in F.

Wihan Quartet Beethoven Cycle - Concert 1 -
Blackheath Halls, London 15 May 2008

We have followed this famous Czech string quartet since they won the London International Competition in 1981. They have maintained the same personnel all that time and developed a reliable rapport and unanimity in their performances. I have described them as hard to write about, because their style and technique are impeccable, but Blackheath Halls (where they have often played and conducted master classes) seems to suit them particularly well.

This was an outstanding recital, which augurs well for the complete cycle which they are repeating here, soon after completing the first ever to have been given in Prague*; maybe it was first for Blackheath too? A felicitous novelty was the inclusion of Beethoven's own arrangement of one of his earlier piano sonatas. Two quartets in F were the pillars of the recital; the earlier one reminding us that Beethoven was far from a novice when he composed his Op. 18 set. No.1 was in fact the last to reach its definitive form. After a period of immersion in quartets of the period (Clementi, Reicha, Boccherini etc) one was reminded afresh of the strength of these works which have established themselves firmly in the repertoire.

The performance of the first of the expansive Razumovsky Quartets, Opus 59 was inspired and gripping from beginning to end. The sound from the back of the Recital Room, with all the curtains around the windows closed, was ideal, and good reason to make the journey to Blackheath for the rest of the cycle (c.15 minutes by rail from Charing X or London Bridge). The ony reservation was that the temperature built up, which must have been trying for the players and testing for their instruments, which needed some retuning between movements.

Peter Grahame Woolf

The remainder of the Blackheath Halls series: 17 & 18 May & 5, 7, 8 June; Thursdays, Saturdays at 7.30pm; Sundays at 11am

*If you can't get to the whole series, there is an affordable andrecommendable boxed set of all the Beethoven quartets, including the "extras" - a fully competitive set at a fair price if you want another intégrale. [Lotos LT 0148-2 10 Cds]


And the Prague Beethoven cycle is shortly to be released on the Wihan's own label - meanwhile visit www.wihanquartet.com, where they can be seen playing and teaching on a short UTube film by Anthony Ede. PGW

Wihan Quartet Beethoven Cycle - Concert 1-6

Blackheath Halls, London 15, 17 & 18 May & 5, 7 & 8 June 2008

Addendum- - a few comments from one of the many people who took the entire journey through the cycle with the remarkable Czech Quartet.

The first and most obvious thing to say is that the performances focused our minds on this glorious music and one left the Recital Room on Sunday afternoon, stunned, exhausted and with a true sense that our lives had been profoundly enriched. The Wihan quartet are difficult to write about because, as has been said on this site before, although their style and technique are impeccable, they are unflamboyant and self-effacing and they seem to exist solely to serve the music. They are a true ensemble, four musicians seamlessly evolving into one voice.

On a more prosaic level they also displayed tremendous physical and mental stamina; the players frequently finished looking extremely drained.

One final word concerning the venue. Blackheath Halls is one of the least "corporate" of the major venues in London. The only sponsor of the cycle appeared to be the estimable Cavatina Chamber Music Trust and there was no sign of corporate branding, private drinks for clients or late starts due to late arriving bankers or bond dealers!

Consequently the audience was composed solely of those who were there to listen and to concentrate, to breathe in the music and to discuss it in the intervals and afterwards - to be a part of this wonderful festival of music.

Mark Dennis