© Aline Paley

Verbier 2016: Beethoven String Quartet Op.130 and Brahms Clarinet Quintet

The Quatuor Ebene gave a dazzling performance of Beethoven’s Quartet in B flat major op.130 earlier this evening at the Eglise in Verbier. It was a monumental achievement.

Written a year before his death, Beethoven’s op.130 is a complex work taking the uninitiated on a long and sometimes arduous journey from youthful exuberance and passion, through intense loss, and ultimately into grief-fuelled mania. There is hope at the end of the phenomenally demanding finale (we heard all six movements of the original edition), but there isn’t a sense of lasting stability.

Quatuor Ebene’s committed performance throughout was what hooked me in. An electrifying presto and playful andante provided light relief amid the tempest and exuberance elsewhere. The childlike theme treated to a swift series of variations entertained but they also threatened with a dark edge.

The players shone throughout, each with a distinct personality but no one individual dominating. The chemistry between viola player and cellist was especially touching. It was the finale where they really showed their metal, intertwined with the unrelenting descent into mania and beyond, right until the end. They displayed great stamina and rose to the challenge presented by this profoundly moving score.

After the brutality of the Beethoven, clarinettist Martin Frost’s warm tone in Brahms clarinet quintet cushioned us. The lilting sweet melody in the opening allegretto did the rest.

The quintet – sensitively programme as an antidote to what had gone before – may have been a musical escape within slightly-easier-to-handle boundaries, but the group never lost the necessary urgency the work demands of its interpreters.

The second movement adagio was a ravishing serenade that strayed into near operative territory with pseudo-recitatives over which the clarinet soared with grand statements. The movement’s conclusion was exquisite.

Frost is a phenomenal instrumentalist. His fluid lines, rich, rounded tone, and effortless articulation are a joy to behold. Watching him reminds me of the difficulties I experienced trying to achieve the same – I failed dismally.

But his partnership with Quatuor Ebene made for a delicious experience, transporting those of left in tatters after the Beethoven to a place where we could at least see a beacon of hope shining brightly somewhere in front of us.

All images © Aline Paley

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