Review: A contrast of merriment and elegance
Classical: Beethoven Quartets, National Concert Hall
With its Kevin Barry Room recently refurbished, the National Concert Hall is presenting several celebratory events in this intimate ambience.
One of these brings the Vanbrugh Quartet with Beethoven's 16 quartets, together with his Grosse Fuga, in a series of six Sunday recitals concluding on June 5.
The 'full house' for the first programme is rewarded with the Vanbrugh's intrepid response to quartets from Beethoven's early, middle and late periods.
The Vanbrugh follows a performing order associated with a wealthy US chamber music enthusiast Frederick Caldecott Slee who died in 1954.
His will provided Buffalo University with an endowment for an annual Beethoven cycle but stipulating his 'rule' should remain sacrosanct. Many prestigious ensembles obliged over the years and the Vanbrugh now does likewise.
The programme begins, as proscribed, with the Op 127. Its solemn Introduction is almost a summons to attention with the Vanbrugh taking the ensuing sweet and sour Allegro in its stride.
The lengthy Adagio has a searing angst while Beethoven's rough and tumble Scherzo is rhythmically vital and his rustic Finale highly charged.
The Op 18/1 follows the classical examples of Haydn and Mozart. With nicely propelled tempo, the Vanbrugh's vigorous approach mixes the contrasting ingredients of merriment and elegance with agreeable balance.
The 'middle period' Op 59/3, Razumovsky, finds Beethoven determined and independent.
The Vanbrugh's first movement catches the music's strength of purpose as well as its cheery outlook. The despondent and poignant Andante has then a calmly flowing intensity while the sturdy Minuet follows with robust step.
The flying fugue-like Finale bristles with stimulating momentum and leaves no doubt about the Vanbrugh's interpretative skills.