Quartet: The art of intimate interplay

The ensembles of the concert series

Armida Quartett
(Photo: Felix Broede)

This season, the Quartet concert series offers more than a series of classical string quartet concerts. This is demonstrated by the opening concert of the series which is given by two young ensembles: the Armida Quartet and the Quatuor Modigliani. The first comes from Germany, the second from France – however, the two ensembles have several things in common: both were formed during their musical studies; both trained under the Artemis Quartet and launched their international careers with spectacular competition wins. As a double quartet, they perform one of the most uplifting and lively chamber music works of the Romantic period: the Octet in E flat major, composed by the 16-year-old Felix Mendelssohn. The concert also includes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor and Brahms’ first String Sextet.

Nocturnal dream worlds and unrequited love

Quatuor Ebène, which was founded in 1999 and is often acclaimed by the press as the “boy band of string quartets”, also appears with an unusual programme entitled Round Midnight. The quartet takes us to music’s nocturnal shadow worlds, from Salvatore Sciarrino’s Ai limiti della notte for viola solo, to jazz standards, to Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. The ensemble is supported by the violist Antoine Tamestit and the cellist Nicolas Altstaedt. What drives the musicians of the Quatuor Ebène? “We are obsessed with the idea of helping the audience enjoy the beauty of the harmony of the moment,” cellist Raphaël Merlin revealed in an interview with Die Zeit. “What really makes a sound beautiful is the combination of what comes immediately before, and what follows it.”

The Berlin Piano Quartet practises a completely different form of the quartet: in the combination of three strings and piano, the musicians explore the narrow dividing line between the intimacy of chamber music and symphonic gesture. With Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E flat major and Johannes Brahms’ Third Piano Quartet in which the composer is said to have expressed his suffering caused by his unrequited love for Clara Schumann, the ensemble presents two reference works of the genre.

From Mozart to Shostakovich

The Philharmonia Quartet, consisting of four of the Philharmoniker’s string players, is the only ensemble in the series to hold a “classic” quartet evening. The four works of its programme lead through the most different moods and landscapes of the soul, ranging from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's cheerful Hoffmeister Quartet to Claude Debussy’s Classical-Romantic contribution to the genre, and from Igor Stravinsky’s amusing Three Pieces for String Quartet to Dmitri Shostakovich’s sombre and expressive Second String Quartet.

The final ensemble in the series is the Auryn Quartet, which has been performing with the same line-up since it was founded in 1981. Playing together over many years has created a strong bond between the musicians. “We can produce a common pulse. Whoever takes the lead in any section can determine the pulse, and the others then pick up on it,” the musicians said in an interview with the magazine Concerti. The Auryn Quartet also has an unusual programme: the centrepiece is Ernest Chausson’s chamber-musical Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet. The work was written for the violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, and at its premiere in 1892 was considered one of the most important chamber music works of the 19th century. The Auryn Quartet, whose name derives from the magical amulet from Michael Ende’s novel The Neverending Story, performs this work together with violinist Carolin Widmann and pianist Alexander Lonquich.

Quatuor Modigliani
(Photo: Marie Staggat)
Quatuor Ebène
(Photo: Julien Mignot)
Berlin Piano Quartet
(Photo: Julian Luebbert)
Philharmonia Quartett
(Photo: Stadelmann)
Auryn Quartett
(Photo: Manfred Esser)
Antoine Tamestit
(Photo: Eric Larrayadie)
Carolin Widmann
(Photo: Kasskara)