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Belcea Quartet First night, Birmingham [...].

Belcea Quartet First night, Birmingham Town Hall ||||| "Awesome" is currently the most ill-used adjective in our language. I've recently seen it used to describe a footballer's free-kick and (heaven help us) the latest model of iPhone.

You wouldn't be committing a solecism if applying it to Beethoven's String Quartet Opus 131 - the chamber music equivalent of a swift ascent of Everest followed by a plunge down Niagara Falls. In their brilliantly-played trek through its sublime, weird and sometimes intimidating landscape the Belcea Quartet proved to be perfect guides.

The music soars and plunges through every mood from pensive melancholy to pawky humour. In the frenzied scherzo, it suddenly becomes demonically possessed and the players bowed and plucked with ferocity, pizzicatos pinging to the back of the hall.

Beethoven's lightning changes of mood and tempi can bewilder the unwary (players and listeners alike) but the quartet never put a collective foot wrong.

Beethoven's earlier and far more amiable quartet Opus 18 No.5 provided both a contrast and a connection; both works have at their heart a slow theme-andvariations movement.

At first I thought the playing might be a mite too restrained, a little polite for some of Beethoven's gruffer forays into rustic humour.

But no, when required - as in the variation which sounds as if the quartet has set up shop in the local tavern - the playing was suitably unbuttoned and roistering.

The two movements of Haydn's unfinished Op.103 quartet - a gracious slow movement and tripping minuet - were a tasty starter for the musical feast to come.

Norman Stinchcombe
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 31, 2013
Words:260
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