The Finnish quartet Meta4 play Haydn and Schumann string quartets at Wigmore Hall
Meta4 (Antti Tikkanen & Minna Pensola (violins), Atte Kilpeläinen (viola) & Tomas Djupsjöbacka (cello)) – Wigmore Hall, live on BBC Radio 3, 6 April 2015.
Listening link (opens in a new window):
on the iPlayer until 6 May
This Spotify link is for those unable to gain access to the broadcast. As Meta4 have not recorded any of this music, two alternatives have been chosen in recordings by the Hagen Quartet:
What’s the music?
Haydn – String Quartet in C major Op.20/2 (1772) (20 mins)
Schumann – String Quartet no.1 (1842) (27 mins)
What about the music?
Haydn string quartets are so often a feature in an hour-long quartet recital that it is easy to forget just how revolutionary they were at the time of composition. The publication of his six ‘Sun’ quartets in 1772 (so-called because an early edition had the sun on its cover) represented a massive step forward in the history of the form towards what it has become today. One of the best quotes about the string quartet comes from Goethe – who referred to Haydn’s mastery of it as ‘’
Before the ‘Sun’ quartets the violins had almost total dominance in the melody – but the gradual development of viola and cello into melody instruments was well underway, and Haydn ensured that in the second of the six works he gave special attention to the cello from the outset – before bringing all four instruments together as equals. The musical language, too, is expressive, the composer moving to unusual keys and harmonies to present music that is far from simple – as C major often suggests it should be.
Schumann, on the other hand, is not really regarded as a string quartet composer – his primary instruments being the voice and the piano. Yet he contributed three very attractive works to the medium, all written in 1842, a year after his so-called ‘year of song’. This was after an intense period of study of the quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
Schumann dedicated the three quartets published as Op.41 to Mendelssohn – who loved them.
These are spirited performances from Meta4. For the Haydn they bring out some of the revolutionary aspects of the writing by using less vibrato, giving a more austere sound when the harmonies get darker. Some of the tuning here is not perfect, but there is never lack of expression.
The Schumann quartet is extremely enjoyable, vigorous in its faster movements but finding the lyricism Schumann invests in his quartet writing especially in the slow movement.
What should I listen out for?
2:36 – the quartet begins with quite a sinewy sound. There is a sense of discovery here, a little similar in mood to the opening shades of Haydn’s ‘Le Matin’ symphony. A rather more austere section begins at 6:49, darker in mood, before the cello takes up the theme once again at 8:22.
10:01 – a louder attack from Meta4, and a more dramatic section of music from Haydn that seems to hark back towards the Baroque in its stormy implications. It is no coincidence that the music has shifted from C major to C minor, and the emotions are troubled. The movement ends, almost with a whimper.
13:05 – now the music is rather sweet, with an attractive line given to the first violin – but again the ‘sturm and drang’
A relatively genial last movement begins, but still doesn’t sound fully sure of itself until the pace picks up finishes at 22:42
25:57 – a subdued beginning to the quartet, with careful interplay between the instruments. After this slow introduction the music speeds up and gets to the heart of its argument.
35:30 – a restless second movement with what is nonetheless quite a catchy tune when heard several times! A contrasting ‘trio’ section begins at 37:03, which has more graceful contours but still sounds a bit on edge with its chromatic nature.
39:53 – a rising line from the cello signals the beginning of the slow movement, with this material used as the basis
46:59 – a brisk last movement begun with three ‘snap’ chords before the music becomes more rustic and outdoors. Rushes to what looks like a false ending at 51:32, but then an extraordinary passage of play starts where the four instruments sound like bagpipes.
55:06 – the encore chosen by Meta4 is a ‘local’ one – Jusslin by the contemporary Finnish composer Timo Alakotila (5 mins)
Want to hear more?
After hearing one of the Haydn ‘Sun’ quartets, the other five are also strongly recommended. You can hear the Hagen Quartet playing them on Spotify here.
Similarly the other two Schumann quartets of the Op.41 set are recommended, together with the Piano Quintet (for piano and string quartet) written soon after. The Hagen Quartet are once again in action, playing the First String Quartet and Piano Quintet here (pianist Paul Gulda), and quartets nos. 2 & 3 here
For more concerts click here