The Arcadia Quartet founded in 2005 by students at theGheorgheDimaMusicAcademyin Cluj-Napoco, the second largest city inRomania, are renowned as winners of a number of the world’s most prestigious String Quartet Competitions. We were fortunate indeed that Aberdeen was included as part of their current tour of the UK and Ireland supported by The Wigmore Hall Trust.
The breathtaking brilliance of their playing was evident from the very start of their performance of Beethoven’s Quartet in B flat Op.18 No.6. The searing intensity of their performance never let up and yet it was tempered by an astonishing lightness and delicacy and a sense of precision in every aspect of their ensemble playing that revealed previously unimagined qualities in Beethoven’s music. This gave the final quartet of the Opus 18 group the polish you expect only from the later quartets. Leader Ana Török’s playing was particularly finely polished.
The quartet achieved an especially sweet blend in their elegant delivery of the second movement while in the gusty wind-blown Scherzo lightness and intensity were finely balanced.
In a wonderful performance of the Finale, gentle wistful melancholy was conquered by more cheerful dance inspired music and Ana Török really let rip to bring the quartet to a thrilling conclusion.
La Seda y el Metal had a Spanish title despite being the work of the Romanian composer Adrian Pop. Its opening seemed to me like a series of veils of string sound passing over one another. Strange harmonies, slides and percussive exhalations by the quartet members were just some of the unusual and imaginative sound textures used at the beginning of the work. As it progressed however the mists seemed to clear, seemingly distant sounds of folk-like music came drifting from the quartet building an amazing sense of atmosphere before finally the music became almost romantic. All of the audience members I spoke to in the interval agreed with me saying they had really enjoyed this piece.
After the interval, the second contemporary work in the programme was relatively short. This was Transfiguration by another present day Romanian composer Dan Variu. Violent single note pizzicatos launched slow held notes that were suddenly swept away in a violent upward stroke of the bow that produced a kind of yelp from the instruments. The piece worked like a slowly mutating sound sculpture that was indeed dreamlike as the composer suggested in his covering note.
The final work in the official programme was Leos Janáček’s Quartet No.2 known as “Intimate Letters”. The work was composed in response to the composer’s unrequited infatuation with a much younger woman when he was in his seventies. It is full of passion, tenderness, anger and disappointment all of which alternate throughout the piece. In listening to this music I was forcefully reminded of the composer’s operatic works, in fact can this really be considered an opera for String Quartet? The viola seems to be closely linked with Janáček’s beloved and throughout the work the viola player Traian Boală is given some lovely melodic music. There are momentary passages of happier folk music in the work and furious explosions too. In the finale, Ana Török soared ecstatically in the uppermost reaches of the violin. In this movement it was as if the composer was trying his hardest to be happy but he never quite got there.
Nevertheless this was a stunningly colourful performance from the Arcadia Quartet. They got a rousing ovation from the large audience and we were rewarded with Variu’s setting for string quartet of Béla Bartók’s Romanian Dances, a spectacularly joyful performance that sent us all home happy and fulfilled.