Rhetorical spiritedness and clean brilliance

Wihan Quartet

Rhetorical spiritedness and clean brilliance

… Leoš Čepický sits ram-rod straight with an air of assurance and subtle wit, his tone incisively etched, and second fiddler Jan Schulmeister leans into and over his instrument, tactilely making it sing so warmly, the wonderful results of the pair’s musical conversations and duets proves that contrast can also mean complement and coherence.

… Gestures were freely transferred, trills and dynamic contrasts were vibrant, the tone was full and sincere, and after well-shaped urgency in the development section [of the Allegro vivace assaix of Mozart’s ‘Hunt’ Quartet], a brilliant ebullience marked the recapitulation… the melodic and textural definition of the Adagio were refined: there were lovely dialogues between first violin and cello, and some beautifully telling motivic interplay in the inner voices. The players opted for a slightly ‘cooler’ tone in the finale which enabled them to skate breezily through the Allegro assai.

“The appreciation of broad structure that the Wihan displayed in the Mozart – for example, in shaping the long coda of the first movement – was even more discerning and assured in Beethoven’s String Quartet in C major Op.59 No.3, in which there was a prevailing optimism about the ‘quest’ upon which they embarked.”

Again, a wide vibrato enriched the striking changes of timbre and harmonic slippages of the slow introduction to the Allegro vivace, but with the arrival of the latter the mists cleared.  Čepický’s theme perched cleanly on the silence beneath, initiating plentiful virtuosic athleticism as the movement unfolded… there was often a delightful ‘tongue-in-cheek’ simplicity about the Wihan’s playing, a quasi-antidote to the complexities of the harmonically hazy Andante con moto. 

The second movement Andante theme and variations meandered but the direction was never in doubt, guided by Kaňka’s cello pizzicato – a sort of low drone, ever consistent of tone and dynamic. The rhythmic seductiveness of the upper voices created a yearning air, and though there were moments when a tempest threatened to throw the journey off course, a quiet sense of purpose prevailed, beautifully articulated in the tender closing bars. Here, Kaňka’s sure-footed triplet-quavers led the ensemble safely home. The lucidly slithering semi-quavers of the Menuetto almost seemed to poke fun at Beethoven’s parenthetical ‘grazioso’, and the tuning of the octave unisons was impressive.  In the Allegro molto, fugue and sonata form combined with rhetorical spiritedness and clean brilliance, and there was a wonderful sense of freedom in the rush to the close.

“… the warmth and fullness that the Wihan had summoned in Mozart’s ‘Hunt’ Quartet here [in Dvořák’s String Quartet in A-flat major Op.105] bloomed into an even more visceral intensity but one which did not mar the eloquence or definition of line.”

Indeed, after the tensions of the Adagio introduction they slipped with insouciant ease into the flowing first subject of the Allegro appassionato, and in the development section the individual voices spoke with almost soloistic strength and character. The scherzo sailed on the elated ebullience of the Czech furiant, propelled by the cello’s vibrant fleet pizzicato flight, but the trio was not without lyricism. If the Lento e molto cantabile allowed us to enjoy the beguiling interplay of the two violins, it was once again the confident articulation of the form of the final Allegro non troppo that most impressed.

… Dvořák doesn’t get much better than this.

The Concert:

Wihan Quartet
Wigmore Hall
24th February 2018

Mozart String Quartet in B-flat major K458, ‘The Hunt’
Beethoven String Quartet in C major op.59 No.3, ‘Razumovsky’
Dvořák String Quartet in A-flat major op.105

See also