The renowned Chilingirian Quartet gave an electrifying performance of celebrated string quartets by Bartok, Haydn and Beethoven at London's Wigmore Hall.

Graham Topping
Graham Topping

The concert began with an outstanding rendition of Bartok’s Fourth String Quartet (1928), which consists of five movements in a loose ‘arch’ form. Movements I and V are thematically linked, Movement II is played with mutes, while Movement IV is performed pizzicato, leaving the slow central movement as the ‘kernel’ of this distinctive work. I was immediately struck by the Chilingirian Quartet’s well-blended sound, integrating difficult and complicated individual parts into a magical mix of colours and carefully graded dynamics. The quartet combined a superb sense of rhythm with wonderful rubato, and showed clear musical insight. After the appearance of the ‘Bartok pizzicato’ in Movement II, in which the string snaps back off the fingerboard of the instrument, the slow movement stood out for its ethereal effects, animal-like noises and breathtaking quiet passages. The final movement saw a triumphant finale to this unique work. The Chilingirian Quartet powerfully evoked Bartok’s style and displayed the music’s brilliance and innovation.

The next work was Haydn’s String Quartet in G Op. 77 No. 1 (1799), played with the greatest elegance and charm, as well as plenty of energy. The first violin melody in the opening march-like movement was beautifully executed, with carefully shaped phrases and a singing sound, matched by crisp accompaniment from the lower parts. The Adagio was particularly beautiful and had a rivetingly quiet moment. A playful Minuet followed, written in Haydn’s new scherzo style, with sudden forte outbursts. The final movement, marked ‘presto’, comprises a single theme and includes dazzling passages, which were played with abandon. The Chilingirian Quartet gave a thoroughly enjoyable and individual performance of this work.

Beethoven’s String Quartet in C sharp minor Op. 131 (1826) was the final work in the concert. This seven-movement quartet represents a divergence from traditional classical forms, and despite Beethoven’s own initial description of it as ‘cribbed together variously from this and that’, it is highly original in its design. The first movement is a slow fugue rather than a typical sonata-form allegro, which occurs instead in the finale, and was played with hushed tranquillity and great warmth of sound. This work spoke with deep emotion and the Chilingirian Quartet gave it unearthly beauty, taking time over corners and achieving special colours, yet maintaining direction in each phrase and imbuing the music with real soul. As an encore, they gave an otherworldly and deeply moving performance of the slow movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet in F major, Op. 135.

The Chilingirian Quartet brought something meaningful and truly unique to each work. Their playing was full of excitement, musical beauty and true artistry. It was a privilege to hear them play and to attend such an inspiring concert.