Sunday 3 March 2013

Tetzlaff Quartet - Haydn, Berg, and Beethoven, 2 March 2013

Wigmore Hall

Haydn – String Quartet in C major, op.20 no.2
Berg – Lyric Suite
Beethoven – String Quartet no.15 in A minor, op.132

Christian Tetzlaff, Elisabeth Kufferath (violins)
Hanna Weinmeister (viola)
Tania Tetzlaff (cello)

The second of Haydn’s Sun Quartets opened with a well-nigh perfect marriage of cultivation and bright tone, the Tetzlaff Quartet offering a reading that was properly detailed without the slightest hint of fussiness, the longer line always apparent, always a guiding thread. There was an equally fine sense of cumulative form, though without pressing too hard. This remained, as it must, a Haydn Moderato. The slow movement retained its predecessor’s communication of the extraordinary originality of Haydn’s formal genius. Echoes of the Baroque met with an experimentalism that almost puts Bartók to shame. Nor was the lyricism of that beautiful central melody overlooked. Haydn’s masterstroke of having the minuet steal in, foreshortening the Adagio, was beautifully handled, and the finale’s fugal ‘learning’, whilst worn lightly, was none the less vividly communicated for that. Its coda offered a wonderful sense of release – and again sheer originality.

The quartet’s performance of Berg’s Lyric Suite was, if anything, more committed still. Its first movement burst forth with just the right impression of (amorous) life, its sonata form clear, meaningful, without any sense of neo-Classical didacticism. There was admirable flexibility too; indeed, at times the reading – like the work – verged upon the operatic. For all I might wish that the programme had never been revealed, it was difficult not to gain a sense of something musico-dramatic here and later, kinship – melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic – with Wozzeck and Lulu perhaps especially strong in the second movement, whose opening, whilst nostalgically beautiful, I had found perhaps a little pastel in shade. (That is a mild criticism, and really the only one I can muster for this excellent performance.) Scurrying intensity and repressed passion – one almost but not quite forgets that the instruments remain muted – marked the third movement, as dramatically concentrated as one could hope for. The turbulent dynamism of post-Tristan eroticism yet still made space in the fourth movement for the quasi-religious stillness of the Zemlinsky quotation, ‘Du bist mein eigen’. It was wonderfully moving. After that, the pitch-black, savage musica negative of the fifth movement pulled quite a punch, rivalling anything in Lachenmann. The finale emerged as radiant, richly post-Romantic, a properly ambiguous attempt at reconciliation, the Tristan quotation an even more hopeless attempt than usual to turn back the clock, Stefan Georg’s ‘De profundis clamavi’ voiced in everything but its words. Music subsided into nothingness: in equal measure chilling and hopeful.

Beethoven’s A minor Quartet followed after the interval. The first movement and much of the rest of the performance possessed an intimacy that drew one in. Here Christian Teztlaff’s solo skill was put to excellent use. The broadening of intimacy into exultancy, Beethoven’s doing of course, was subtly, rewardingly communicated, with a crucial sense of dialectical tension. Closing vehemence sounded like a vain attempt – not unlike that mentioned in the Berg – to turn the clock back, in this case to the world of the Kreutzer Sonata. On occasion, I wondered whether the intimacy of the scherzo shaded into a certain skating over, but the sheer obsessive strangeness, for all its historical rooting, of the trio was unerringly portrayed. The grave dignity of the Heiliger Dankgesang, fragile yet strong, was alas seriously undermined by determined intervention from a crack group of bronchial terrorists. Could they have chosen holier ground to profane? They should have been utterly ashamed of themselves. Nevertheless, there was a proper sense of ‘Neue Kraft füglend’, as if totality itself had been rejuvenated by modal excursion both archaic and modernist. D major sounded as radiant as it might in a world of thoroughgoing mediation. The march with which the finale opens elicited charm and forthrightness in equal measure, the ensuing A minor intervention dramatically to the point. Not of course that it is a mere ‘intervention’; dialectical conflict was played out with gripping intensity.