Reviewed by Andy Wilding
Cape Town Concert Series hosted amazing musicians David Juritz, Suzanne Martens, Karen Gaertner, and Peter Martens for an evening of Beethoven string quartets.
Baxter Concert Hall Saturday 21 May 2016
I love the intensity in a chamber performance. A quartet is really four soloists playing together – each instrumentalist being the soloist for their part. There is no-where to hide. It requires four highly achieving musicians who not only have virtuosic ability in their instrument, but who also have the emotional maturity to relinquish the solo ego in favour of the sound that the composer intended. Last Saturday we were granted an audience with such a quartet. They consulted internationally recognised Beethoven expert Stewart Young, and delivered an exceptional performance of balance and insight.
String Quartet in C minor Op.18 No.4
Creating tangible tension from the first phrase, Juritz’s mellow melody contrasted excitingly with Martens’ agitated continuo. The hard acoustic of the venue projected the tiniest movement of hair on string, encouraging the quartet to push the extremity of their pianissimo dynamic right down to a feather touch. Phrasing was beautiful, balance exquisite, and tempo fearless in the final Allegro.
String Quartet in F major Op.135
It is understandable if some thought Beethoven was going mad towards the end of his repertoire. Even compared to modern geniuses like Shostakovich and Stravinsky, Beethoven bent rules alarmingly, at a time when his audience was barely able to keep up with Haydn! Phrases are interrupted; melodies change from crochets to semiquavers back to crotches; there are spaces of astonishing nothingness filled with wonder; and existential mantras of being, that seem to describe the harmonic mechanics of the Cosmos. Surely these later works were “Conversations with God”, centuries before Neale Donald Walsch learned to write. To my ears, the quartet made such sense of Beethoven’s mystical final work, so that – far beyond the reflection of their own interpretive skill – they resurrected his essence and spoke his mind for all to hear. Beethoven doesn’t live any more, doesn’t walk and slam doors and shout and notate the Universe, but he exists in performances such as this. I was not alone in my philosophy, next to me I heard an audience member during the applause: “It’s so wonderful to be at a concert like this. Everyone is transported into a very special time and space.”
String Quartet in C major Op.59 No.3
This was a great example of four virtuosos on stage. The performance was recordable, with exciting moments of seamlessness as Martens’ cello finished Juritz’s violin runs. The unison playing was impeccable. The coda in the last movement is extended, building almost to climax, then receding, gathering more energy, then building again. The quartet sustained intensity without losing momentum, and the resulting suspense was riveting.