Online Concert: Vision String Quartet play Shostakovich & Mendelssohn @ Wigmore Hall

Vision String Quartet [(Florian Willeitner, Daniel Stoll (violins), Sander Stuart (viola), Leonard Disselhorst (cello)]

Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C minor Op. 110
Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 2 in A minor Op. 13

Wigmore Hall, Monday 27 February 1pm

by Ben Hogwood

Vision String Quartet are a dynamic young ensemble based in Berlin, who play with great freedom – foregoing printed music and playing standing up (save for the cello of course). Neither of these attributes are gimmicks, for they suit an ensemble who have a charismatic presence and gave two performances of substantial minor key string quartets with passion and attention to detail. The program presented an interesting juxtaposition, the pieces written in very different circumstances but using the string quartet medium to air very private thoughts.

The String Quartet no.8 is the most played in Shostakovich’s canon of 15 string quartets – and arguably receives a disproportionate coverage when compared to the other fine works in the cycle. Yet in a good performance it makes an extremely powerful connection with its audience, as they learn the circumstances in which the composer wrote it.

In 1960 Shostakovich was in fear of his life, and the Eighth Quartet was his unofficial epitaph. An autobiographical work, it contains quotes from some of his most successful and important earlier works, including the Piano Trio no.2, the First and Fifth Symphonies and the recently completed Cello Concerto no.1. It begins with a sombre Largo, which the ensemble played with great sincerity. It is sometimes argued that it takes a Russian quartet to fully understand these works, and certainly the Borodin String Quartet interpretations loom large over whoever dares to take them on, but this performance took the plunge with impressive surety.

Technically the quartet were superb, the lower parts of viola and cello driving the faster passages with obdurate figures. Meanwhile first violinist Florian Willeitner found a suitably plaintive tone over the held drone from the other three instruments when the music almost came to a standstill, a most moving part of the first movement. The torrid second movement gritted its teeth, while in the chilling fourth movement, the rat-a-tat motion (thought to depict gunfire or the Russian authorities knocking on the door) left a lasting impression. The Vision players were keen to emphasise the dissonances throughout, and this approach carried all the way through to the final resolution, which was all the more telling as a result.

After this performance Mendelssohn’s String Quartet no.2 in A minor was warm in comparison, yet this is not one of the composer’s sunniest works, written as it was in the grip of an unrequited love.

Affectionately played, the first movement caught the right tension between major and minor key, with an airy outlook from Willeitner’s first violin, but with the increasing incursion of the minor key something of a shadow fell over the music. The temperature warmed appreciably for the second movement, its figures delicately sung and balanced  with attractive countermelodies from around the quartet.

The third movement was a subtle charmer, its subject responding well to an unfussy presentation and subtle rubato, the Vision happy to manipulate the lilting dance rhythms rather tastefully. A skittish end cut to a vigorous, almost violent set of tremolos ushering in the presto finale, which fizzed with energy and enthusiastic interplay. The Vision Quartet secured a really nicely paced finish, winding down to a seraphic major key coda which was thoughtful and radiant.

As an encore the quartet delved into their new album Spectrum for Copenhagen, a collaborative work penned by the four instrumentalists themselves. A persuasive rhythm took shape over a cello ostinato figure, given out by the quartet with drive and passion. The piece had a rustic air which spoke of the outdoors, offering a promise of spring after two wintry works.

For more livestreamed concerts from the Wigmore Hall, click here – and for more about the artists, visit the Vision String Quartet website

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