Tim Homfray hears the performance of Janáček, Turnage and Bartók at London’s Wigmore Hall on 16 January 2024



Castalian Quartet. Photo: Wigmore Hall Trust 2024

The Castalian Quartet began with Janáček’s First Quartet, the ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, with an almost recitative-like quality from cellist Steffan Morris at the opening, vehement utterances from violist Edgar Francis and some rich G-string playing from leader Sini Simonen. There were vivid contrasts and violent clashes of colour in the second movement and in the third a discomfiting attack of sul ponticello tremolo interruptions that seemed to come from a later musical era. Simonen played with anguished muscularity and super-heated vibrato in the finale and Francis all but quarried out some of his phrases.

The two movements of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Awake, commissioned by the Castalian, has long-breathed lines, which were beautifully sustained and paced. There are sudden agitated outbursts in the first, and the second is laced with restless anxiety before its questioning, unresolved final chord.

The opening Allegro of Bartók’s Fifth Quartet was ferocious, full of dogged determination, leavened by some light, fluid playing. The Adagio was poised and delicate, and there was a feeling of fun in the Scherzo, thanks to the changeability of the initial quaver passages and the touches of rustic dance. Emotional intensity steadily increased through the Andante, and the finale combined superb ensemble playing with the personalities of individual voices.