This was the last in the ECMA series of concerts at Wigmore Hall and was probably the best. This young Danish Quartet are very impressive. I went because I can never resist Bartók’s string quartets and the concert started with is second quartet. It was enjoyable but it does not reach the levels of greatness that his later quartets reached. The surprise for me was the second piece, Beethoven’s String Quartet In E Minor, Op. 59 No. 2 ‘Razumovsky’. I knew Beethoven’s late quartets were wonderful but I have never heard one of these earlier quartets sounding so good before. For a relatively young quartet that is a major achievement and they certainly deserved the resounding ovation we gave them and gave us in return an encore of the second movement from Rued Langgaard’s Third Quartet.Short and sweet, it was a fun way to end a lovely concert.
This lunchtime concert formed part of the European Chamber Music Academy series of performances by up-and-coming chamber ensembles. First, the Wu Quartet played Britten’s String Quartet No. 2 in C Op. 36, a wonderful, complex work. It sounded to me as it was telling a story, full of melodies talking to each other and transforming into new ones. It is clearly a difficult work to play but they managed it well, even if they looked exhausted at the end – apart from the quartet’s leader, Qian Wu, who smiled triumphantly. The Streeton Trio then played Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor Op. 101. It is a shame the concert was programmed in this order. The Brahms trio would have made a good warm up for the Britten but, coming second, I felt it was somewhat overshadowed by the much greater complexity of the Britten quartet, even though it was played highly skilfully.
Some people may think it is odd that I can rate a travelling company such as Vienna Festival Ballet more highly than the obviously much more skilled Royal Ballet. As I can’t go out much at the moment, I decided to look at the very different experience of big and small theatres and venues.
Skill levels. Obviously the big companies can draw on more highly skilled actors and dancers than the little ones but sometimes the very best actors love working in small theatres (e.g. Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins in “All That Fall” last year) and some small theatres can draw the very best actors, such as the Orange Tree in Richmond. It also takes a different sort of skill to work on a big stage in a big theatre – OperaUpClose can get extremely good singers who may not have the power to fill the Coliseum or ROH.
Musical scale. Most of the best concerts I have been to have been in small venues such as the JACK Quartet playing Xenakis’s astonishing Tetras Quartet at the Wigmore Hall or the amazing Japanese band Nissennenmondai at Upset the Rhythm. You can never see that level of virtuosity in a symphony orchestra or in a stadium, unless it is on the video screens.
Practice makes perfect. Travelling companies will recruit for a specific production and then play it night after night, raising their performances to levels they would not initially be able to achieve. Oddly, the use of pre-recorded music can help too as it is absolutely the same every night. I love the use of a full orchestra by the Royal Ballet or English National Ballet but the tightest performance by the ENB I have seen was their collaboration with Flawless in “Against Time,” a touring production danced to a recorded backing.
Friendliness. Small theatres and venues offer a far more intimate experience than the bigger venues and sharing the experience with a few dozen people can make you feel a part of something very special whereas larger places can become very impersonal.