Quartet makes an impact

Benyounes Quartet
Benyounes Quartet

Wikipedia’s alphabetical list of string quartets lists forty one ensembles under ‘A’ alone. As one audience member put it in the question and answer session in the bar: “There’s a lot of competition out there.”

It seems to me that the Benyounes Quartet have everything required to make a significant impact under ‘B’.

What a delight it is to see such a young quartet playing the mainstream repertoire. My guess is that their average age would be less than half that of the audience. Nonetheless, they played with the insouciance and charm of youth.

The programme could be seen as a history of the string quartet in a nutshell. Starting with the Haydn Quartet in C Op. 54 (1788), they set out their stall playing with a tight unity that suggests much intensive rehearsal. The dark tones of the Adagio gave the opportunity for the viola (Tetsuumi Nagata) and the cello (Kim Vaughan) to foreground their talents.

We moved on from Haydn into the era of Romanticism and we felt immediately the greater intensity of the playing. The second piece, Mendelssohn’s Quarter in E Flat Op.12 (1829), gave us sumptuous melodies played with fluency and grace. We expect a Romantic piece to emphasise the individuality of the players and so it proved. The leadership of Zara Benyounis became more pronounced but the second violin (Emily Holland) also had a significant role to play as she carried one of the major themes.

Our history lesson progressed as we moved to the later Romanticism of Brahms.

Brahms published two Quartets in 1873 under the Opus 51 number, one in A minor and the other, the one the Benyounes Quartet played, in C minor. Critical comment at the time was lukewarm, but Schoenberg approved of it. Its dissonances made it a much more challenging piece.