The Zehetmair Quartet is, in some respects, slightly odd to look at as they take the stage. Not only did they play the first half without music, but from left to right the formation ran first violin, viola, cello and second violin. Perhaps due to the lack of music, they were sitting in less of a semi-circle than usual, more two rows facing inwards at each other - almost as if the audience was incidental. The result felt rather introverted.
They played Schumann's first quartet, op.41. Technically it was excellent and they played to a very high standard, though I didn't find them as compelling an ensemble as the Signum Quartet two days earlier. However, this was probably more down to the music itself, which left me utterly cold.
After the interval it was another matter entirely as they played Shostakovich's 15th quartet, his final one, written very close to his death and as a result intensely dark and morbid. Nominally in six movements, all marked adagio, it was played almost without break. If the technical standard had been high in the first half it was nothing compared to the second as, during the intensely minimalist opening, chords grew out of extreme pianissimo. There also seemed to be a fair degree of repetition further heightening the emotion - was this perhaps another link to the first section of Aimard's Collage-Montage. The result was utterly compelling, if bleakly depressing.
Unfortunately, they followed it up with an encore (they didn't introduce it, but it sounded like another bit of Shostakovich). It was well played but that misses the point. The 15th quartet is the kind of music that needs nothing to follow it - you wouldn't, after all, encore the Verdi requiem!
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