Coffee Concert 24th October 2021 – Adelphi Quartet – Strings Attached Review by Michael Wilkinson

Whether absence has made the heart grow fonder, or whether I am growing softer with increasing years, may be moot arguments, but there was something rather special about this superb concert by the young, immensely talented, Adelphi Quartet. Regular attendees at these concerts have heard many distinguished young players, technically highly adept, and frequently most insightful in their playing. The Adelphi, based in Salzburg, (though the players are truly international, one Belgian, one Spanish, one Serbian and one German), seem to have that extra special touch which suggests we shall hear much more of them. Founded only four years ago, and obviously disrupted by the restrictions of the last year and a half, they have nevertheless racked up not only many awards, but many appearances – they will be playing at the Wigmore Hall on February 15th.

It was a delight to hear the Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 20, No.2 in C from 1772, one of my favourites, which led me to fear that the performance might be routine – knowing a piece well can sometimes detract from a listener’s concentration. Not so here – I was gripped from the first bars by a lightness of touch, extraordinary clarity of textures, and wonderfully delicate phrasing. Some of the playing, and not only in quieter moments, was exquisite in judgment, perfectly poised, but without indulgence: forward momentum was never lost.

But the Beethoven Quartet in F minor, Op.95, from 1810, has both an experimental quality and a dark intensity which anticipates the late quartets – tough, edgy, and sinewy. The delicacy shown by the Adelphis in the Haydn now needed to be replaced by a stronger, grimmer sound – and that was delivered forcefully, while still sensitive to the calmer Allegretto second movement. But even here, there was an underlying muscularity, in a most satisfying performance.

It was so good to hear the brief pieces, Fetzen No.1 (1999) and Fetzen No. 2 (2002) by Wolfgang Rihm (born 1952). He is a major composer of over 500 pieces, many still awaiting performances, much garlanded and very popular in Germany, despite a reclusive life style, often in great pain, as he has lived with cancer for over 20 years, but less often performed elsewhere (I cannot recall hearing a live performance outside German-speaking countries, until now). His music demands concentration, as it is often terse, as in these two fragments for string quartet, which cover an immense emotional range. Lyrical moments contrast with ferocity, and technical demands are found not only in difficult passages for violin, but no less in the judgment of pauses and fading of sound in the dying cadences. It would be good, in future concerts, to hear one of his more than a dozen quartets, some of which are very brief, and the first written when he was only 14.

The standard set in the previous works created high expectations for the Schumann Quartet in A minor, the second of his three Opus 41 quartets from 1842. All are distinctive, conversational, largely good-natured, and very rich. The influence of Beethoven in the structure of the quartet is very evident, and some of the string writing is reminiscent of Mendelssohn. This was given a fine performance, textually clear and poised.

I hope this will not be the last visit by these wonderfully gifted players.