Notes from the 11th London International String Quartet Competition
Audience opinion once again differs from that of the judges
Another national double act, this time from France, was the Ardeo Quartet and the Quatuor Voce. The latter’s Haydn “Sunrise” showed some original ideas, particularly in the playful phrasing of the first violin. There was individual style also evidenced in the Ardeo’s Haydn Op. 76, No. 2, though not perhaps with the same degree of polish as the Voce. The third national coupling was of two British quartets, the Finzi and the Solstice. Highlights here included a neatly played, but perhaps too deliberate Haydn Op. 64, No. 4, from the Finzi and a convincing Bartók Third Quartet from the Solstice.
A Finnish quartet, the Kamus, was the only quartet that stood up when it played and the only quartet, besides the Finzi with Britten’s Third, to venture outside central Europe in its choice of 20th-century work, with Schnittke’s Third Quartet. The only American ensemble was the Jasper String Quartet, currently the graduate string quartet in residence at Yale University (they took the top prize at several competitions last year). The Jasper played a somewhat underpowered Haydn Op. 76, No. 5, a solid Adès, and a fine Mozart “Dissonance” quartet, in which the group effectively brought out the inner voices.
No Anglo-American quartet made it to the semifinals, though the pairs of French and German quartets did, along with the KNUA and the Danish.
It was a game of two halves in the all-Beethoven program of the semifinals: Op. 74 (Amaryllis, Signum), Op. 131 (KNUA, Voce), and Op. 127 (Ardeo, Danish). This programming handily allowed the audience to compare and contrast the interpretations of these three quartets. The Amaryllis sailed smoothly through the treacherous opening of the Op. 74, while the Signum was in better control of the work’s overall shape and found the right balance between the inner string melodies and the first violin scrambling at the end of the first movement. In Op. 131, the KNUA produced a rich sound, but couldn’t match the edge-of-the-chair approach of the Quatuor Voce. Finally, in Op. 127, the Danish, once again with an attention-grabbing, assertive manner, put the Ardeo’s more restrained version in the shade.