Peter Quantrill hears the performance of Mendelssohn, Bacewicz and Beethoven at London’s Conway Hall on 28 April 2024 

Verona Quartet

Verona Quartet. Photo: Kaupo Kikkas

The Verona Quartet’s recordings of Szymanowski, Janáček and Ligeti hardly prepared me for the rich carpet of tone which this Cleveland-based ensemble unfurled for Mendelssohn’s op.12 Quartet. The impression of retro-romanticism arose partly from the compact seating, partly the Conway Hall’s gorgeous wood-panelled acoustic, but the full vibrato came as quite a surprise – a welcome one – in the 20-year-old Mendelssohn’s homage to late Beethoven.

At any rate, no modern orchestra would address Mendelssohn, or Beethoven, with such opulent sonority. Yet any stylistic qualms were swept aside by the quartet’s second-half performance of op.132. Rather than Beethoven the alienated visionary, the Verona underlined the work’s deep and songful wisdom in a profoundly centred interpretation. Leader Jonathan Ong’s place as first among very much equals nevertheless marks out the Verona as a 21st-century ensemble, and the confessional space of the ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’ evoked not a church or a therapy session but an overdue unburdening to an old friend.

In between came the Fourth Quartet of Grażyna Bacewicz. The surface polish, both of Bacewicz’s style and the Verona’s ensemble, lent an unexpected Hollywood glamour to her Szymanowski-inherited strain of French lyricism. Her quartet writing shares with Haydn and Bartók a resistance to being defined by this or that mood, but the forms are more elusive, the themes not quite memorable enough to stick. Given performances as rhythmically supple and thoroughly integrated as this one, however, and Bacewicz’s Fourth stands every chance of entering the repertoire.