Winningly beautiful

Wihan Quartet

Winningly beautiful

Picture this: one of the Peak District’s most beautiful valleys; a perfect, pale-blue evening in mid-summer; an ancient churchyard thronged with a relaxed crowd admiring the view, or wending their way slowly to and from the convenient hostelry. Add in that they’ve just listened to some of the most beautiful music in the world played by some of its most skilful interpreters, and you have the perfect way to spend an evening…

…The Wihan have attracted many rave reviews, particularly for their recordings of Dvořak and Janáček, but here they began with Mozart – his “Dissonance” Quartet. From the stark, un-Mozartian harmonies of the Adagio opening to the rapid semiquavers of the Allegro, the first movement was gripping in its intensity, but then speed was replaced with sweetness –

“the second movement’s Andante cantabile conversations between the first violin (Leoš Čepicky) and cello (Michal Kanka) were winningly beautiful. The Minuet danced and the final Presto sped along with a youthful energy.”

It is possible for string quartets in their mature years to lose some of this energy, but the Wihan are fortunate in two respects – Kanka replaced Ales Kasprik on cello when he retired and Jakub Čepicky, son of Leoš, similarly replaced Jirí Zigmund on viola. These two players have obviously slotted in without affecting the equilibrium of the group. But a quartet needs a leader, and Leoš Čepicky has lost none of the dynamism and physicality needed for this role.

They returned to a more considered music – Josef Suk’s Meditation on an old Czech Hymn, “St Wenceslas”. It is thoughtful music, and its contrapuntal nature brought the pure tones of Jakub Čepicky on viola and Jan Schulmeister on second violin more into the picture…

“the Wihan’s reputation as the premium interpreters of Dvořák’s music was borne out.”

The variety of sound in [Dvořák’s String Quartet no. 10 in E flat major] second movement, a Dumka, was most engaging – the cello turns into a guitar and the violin occasionally takes off into gypsy dancing – while in the Romanza, the whole quartet devoted themselves to a polished sweetness of sound.

“The finale then demonstrated the completeness of the Wihan’s technical mastery – the accuracy of their ensemble; the synchronised spiccatos; the sudden joint crescendos and diminuendos, and the togetherness of the speed changes.”

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