The Belcea Quartet Perform Benjamin Britten: The String Quartets

String Quartets Nos 1-3

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COMPOSERS: Benjamin Britten
LABELS: EuroArts
ALBUM TITLE: The Belcea Quartet Perform Benjamin Britten: The String Quartets
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1-3
PERFORMER: Belcea Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 2072768

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The Belcea Quartet recorded Britten’s quartets in 2005 to great acclaim. Since then the works have become a staple of their repertoire, and this DVD captures a gripping live cycle from Paris’s Studio Davout. While one might miss the pristine finesse of their previous set, this timbrally grainier recording offers an altogether grander, wilder conception, and an opportunity to watch the intense exchange between four remarkable string-players.

The viola’s leadership role emerges in the first quartet: Krzysztof Chorzelski’s commanding dark line is the expressive thread sustaining an unusually powerful first movement. The allegro con slancio, a scherzo, is more diabolic than enthusiastic, and the finale ferociously percussive. The Purcellian-inspired second quartet is one of Britten’s most stark, uncompromising instrumental works. In the Belcea’s hands its moto perpetuo Vivace movement has a thrilling, Bartókian brutality: no room for English slapstick here; this feels like music running for its life. Similarly, the Chacony unfolds into a vast, sustained outpouring of energy.

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The third, and greatest, quartet, may not here be the most tonally radiant, but it’s so majestically structured that the emotional impact is huge. They bring out the spare, strangeness of Duets, which feels startlingly modern. The Ostinato and Burlesque are exercises in extreme sports, attacked with aggression. Its exotic pizzicato and col legno have a Shostakovichian satirical edge, providing a burst of fiery colour before the devastation of the final movement, tenderly introduced by cellist Antoine Lederlin against the spine-tingling purity of Corinna Belcea’s line. Each voice raises its poignant question over and over as the quartet limps into silence. There are no documentary extras here; just three exceptional performances. Helen Wallace