After a very intense season 2011/2012 full of Beethoven we are now starting our preparations for the new season. We are going to be still immersed in Beethoven, performing in concert series in Stockholm, New York, Vevey, Genoa and Bolzano. Gradually we will also be returning to music by other composers beginning with our first concert of the season at one of our "home" concert halls: Vienna's Konzerthaus, which will feature music by Strauss and Brahms. For details of all our concert until the end of 2012 please visit the Concert Dates page.
We have embarked on the 4th part of our Beethoven Cycle. This is perhaps the most intense and exhausting programme of the whole cycle.
It opens with his first quartet from the early op.18. Even though it is not chronologically the first one of the set it is placed by Beethoven at its beginning for a good reason: it is perhaps the most striking of all the six early quartets. It is full of invention and humour, but the most astonishing by far is its slow movement - truly revolutionary by any standards. Apparently inspired by the tomb scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet it explores contrast to the most extreme degree. It is full of exquisite lyricism which is interrupted by violent outbursts and sharp dramatic gestures punctuated by agonisingly long silences. There is a raw quality to this music almost unparalleled by anything else written by Beethoven for quartet in his later years.
The second quartet of our current programme is the famous "Razumovsky" No.3. It is one of the first quartets we ever learned as a student quartet at the Royal College of Music, so it has been with us for quite a long time - and yet it remains forever a great challenge. Its opening slow introduction to this day sounds "modern" with its jarring harmonies searching for any sense of home key. It is not until many bars into to main allegro movement that the quartet's key is finally arrived at and it is an arrival well worth waiting for! The slow movement is full of melancholy - although no direct quotations are made its spirit is Russian - no doubt in honour of the quartet's dedicatee. The minuetto is Mozartian in its grace, only the trio bearing more subversive trademarks of its composer. And then comes the wonderful fugue, which is one of the most satisfying and vivacious finales Beethoven ever wrote.
These two works alone feel like a full concert and yet after the interval we play the great op.132! Its slow movement is unique: steeped in the sound world of Palestrina, composed in the Lydian mode it feels like music from the edge of the other world - it is a religious mediation at the heart of a piece framed by two outer movements full of passion and often great yearning and anguish.
It is Hamburg, Gateshead and London's Wigmore Hall this week (the Gateshead concert broadcast by BBC Radio 3) and then we are off to Snape for two live performance recordings.
We are about to begin a weekend of concerts in Perugia and Florence with the Swedish clarinet Martin Frost. This is a short and very welcome digression from our Beethoven marathon. We met with Martin in Basel to rehearse the Mozart and Brahms quintets and are about to set off on our trip to Italy. The concerts will also feature quartets by Schubert, Webern, Beethoven and one of our favourites: Britten's Quartet No.3. This will in fact be a special occasion for us, as Axel will be playing it with us for the first time. Going through this wonderful quartet with Axel makes us feel that he has now truly become a "Belcea". You can find out more details about our concerts with Martin on the Concert Dates page of our website...and from Florence it is onwards to Genova on Monday and the beginning of the 4th instalment of the Beethoven Cycle. This time his op.18/1, "Razumovsky No.3 and op.132. Coming to Hamburg and all our UK venues very soon!
Missed the latest installment of the Beethoven series? Not to worry, catch it on BBC Radio 3 this Sunday
BBC - BBC Radio 3 Programmes - Sunday Concert, The Belcea Quartet Plays Beethoven
Find out more about life as a quartet and the quartet's rehearsals in this weeks Classical Music Magazine.