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5X8 String Quartets in London

2 X Beethoven - Beethoven Op 127 & 132 (London Haydn Quartet at Conway Hall)

3 X Britten - 3 quartets at RAM's David Josefowitz Recital Hall (Leporello, Wilhelm and Jubilee Quartets)

3 at Queen Elizabeth Hall - Bartok 3, Janacek 2 & Berg Lyric Suite (Emerson Quartet)

February 2013

An interesting comparison of performers and venues. The London Haydn Quartet is one of the most refined and expert quartets in Britain. It was an unique experience to hear two of the major late quartets together, and it proved an engrossing experience, sounding marvellous from the Conway Hall Balcony.

The Leporellos, Wilhelms and Jubilee Quartets, Leverhulme Chamber Music Fellows of the Royal Academy of Music, had nothing to fear from comparisons with established professionals. And Britten's trilogy, composed over forty years, made a fully satisfying concert programme, its impact enhanced by the excellent acoustic of the Academy's recital hall, which hosts mainly free concerts throughout term time. Hard and unnecessary to make comparisons - all three were fine to hear and good to watch (but photoing is strictly forbidden, to the disappointment of most musicians who play there).

The odd one out was the most prestigious, the famous Emerson Quartet from America, in 3 key works of the late 1920s. Promising in prospect, this event at South Bank Centre disappointed.

Despite a reflective screen on the platform, their tone as received from good press seats was so dry as to dissipate any emotion which might have emanated from the playing. With 34 years of continuous membership, their performances were so thoroughly assimilated that there was no real rapport or spontaneity to be found in the performances (at the end of the season, they will celebrate introducing their new cellist with the Schubert String Quintet).

String quartets originated from domestic gatherings of friends sitting around at home. Standing up might have seemed a good idea when the Emersons were young men, but no longer so.

To having three players standing and the other sitting a whole head down from his colleagues (albeit on a little personal platform) made for an unsettling scene. And a pre-talk interview with one of the players delayed the start for nearly half an hour, so that the first half become unduly lengthy. That time would have been better spent studying Faulkner & Woodall's copious programme notes...

Peter Grahame Woolf