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Complete Beethoven Trios and Quartets Off to a Great Start

2013, Concert Hall, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 11.1.2013 (MC)
Beethoven: String Quartet in F major, Op 59, No. 1 ‘Razumovsky’ (1805/6) String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132 (1825)

Henschel String Quartet:
Christoph Henschel (violin)
Daniel Bell (violin)
Monika Henschel-Schwind (viola)
Mathias Beyer-Karlshøj (cello)

The Royal Northern College of Music has been celebrating their 40th anniversary with a Chamber Music Festival, including this three day celebration of Beethoven. Over the weekend all of Beethoven’s string quartets together with his complete piano trios are being performed.

The first of three elite quartets appearing at the Beethoven weekend was the Munich based Henschel String Quartet performing quartets from his middle and final period. In a time of financial austerity when the number of chamber music societies in Britain is rapidly declining it was good to have the opportunity again to hear the world famous Henschel playing Beethoven whose string quartets rank for many as the pinnacle of all chamber music.

I have lost count of the number of first violinists in professional string ensembles that play with poor intonation. There were no such problems here with the Henschel’s first violinist Christoph Henschel unquestionably one of the finest first violins around today. Playing his 1721 ‘Cobbett’ Stradivarius, Christoph led with immaculate intonation and a radiant silvery timbre that shone through the wonderful acoustics of the hall. I am pleased to report how seamlessly second violin Daniel Bell has integrated into the quartet in place of Markus Henschel.

The first of three strings quartets commissioned by Count Andreas Razumovsky the Quartet in F major, Op. 59/1 abounds with fresh and innovative ideas that expanded the full tonal range of the instruments. With such elevated assurance and unity the Henschel uncovered the beguiling and ephemeral mystery of the four movement score. I especially admired their rich colouring and judicious pacing of the challenging Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando movement. In the Quartet in A minor, Op. 132 the Henschel adeptly navigated their way through the intimate and concerted depths of Beethoven’s writing. Said to reflect Beethoven’s gratitude to God for his recovery from serious illness the remarkable Molto Adagio movement is pivotal to the work. Displaying an innate understanding for the expanse and pacing of the movement the Henschel communicated a deep spirituality from the introspective writing of an intensity that is only seldom encountered.

If you ever get the opportunity to hear the Henschel Quartet in recital take it. String quartet playing rarely gets any better than this.

Michael Cookson, Seen and Heard International, January 14, 2013


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