The Strad Issue: March 2016
Description: Expressions of love by the composers of the Second Viennese School
Musicians: Belcea Quartet, Nicolas Bone (viola) Antonio Meneses (cello)
Composer: Berg; Schoenberg; Webern

A theme of love runs through this very generously filled, 81-minute disc of music by the Second Viennese School triumvirate: transfigured in the Schoenberg, coded in the Berg and innocently passionate in Webern’s Langsamer Satz, written under the spell of his future wife (and if there’s a subtext to his Five Movements it has not been revealed). This is both an exceptionally rich programme and a fine example of quartet playing at its best, warmly recorded at Snape’s Britten Studio.

Accuracy and ensemble are givens with the Belcea, but there’s also an emotional intensity to the playing that uses subtlety and detail rather than histrionics and crude brushstrokes to get to the heart of this often very turbulent music. Meanwhile, the proto-Expressionist edginess of both Webern’s op.5 and Berg’s Lyric Suite is handled with intricate care while exploiting their revolutionary approaches to quartet textures and playing techniques (Bartókian before the event in many respects).

In the enlarged ensemble of Verklärte Nacht, the musicians play as one without the sense one sometimes gets in this music of everything being led from the first violin. The result is an interpretation that is exquisite, touching and powerful by turns, making this one of the most desirable accounts of the sextet original now on disc.

Matthew Rye