Sizzling strings

(From left) Violist Lech Antonio Uszynski, cellist Maja Weber and violinists Wang Xiaoming and Sebastian Bohren of the Stradivari Quartet.
(From left) Violist Lech Antonio Uszynski, cellist Maja Weber and violinists Wang Xiaoming and Sebastian Bohren of the Stradivari Quartet.PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

REVIEW / CONCERT

SSO CHAMBER SERIES: STRADIVARI QUARTET - THE GREAT BEETHOVEN

Stradivari Quartet - Wang Xiaoming and Sebastian Bohren (violins), Lech Antonio Uszynski (viola), Maja Weber (cello) and musicians of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Victoria Concert Hall

Last Friday

Billed as a chamber concert by the Stradivari Quartet, this event was the first of two evenings where musicians of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) joined members of the quartet to perform chamber works from Beethoven's early period.

The music this evening ranged from a charming serenade for flute, violin and viola to one of his best-loved string quartets and a string quintet with double viola.

Serenade In D Major, Op. 25, brings together the rare combination of flute, violin and viola. The six light and cheerful movements belie the technical and musical demands of the music, with exposed solos and duos, and the challenge of blending the instruments without the bass support of a cello.

SSO principal flautist Jin Ta's clear, penetrating tone was beautifully balanced by the noble sound of Lech Antonio Uszynski's Stradivarius "Gibson" viola, which lives up to its reputation as one of the finest violas in existence. Violinist Cao Can was a fine partner to Jin and Uszynski. The ensemble was very good and there was strong rhythm and drive, although at times the violin was overpowered by the flute and viola.

The drama and emotion of String Quartet, Op. 18 No. 4, that followed could hardly be a greater contrast to the more affable Serenade. The quartet played with great technical polish and unity, with violinist Wang Xiaoming leading the group in a spirited reading. Their performance was packed with excitement, often pitting first violin against the other three strings.

One claim to fame for the Stradivari Quartet is that every member performs on an instrument made by the great Italian master. In this quartet, there was little to separate the players. Wang sounded subdued in comparison to his last visit to Singapore as guest concertmaster of the SSO, and the quartet's dark, rounded sound was not always the best match for Beethoven's powerful, incisive writing.

The closing work was String Quintet, Op. 29, which uses two violas, rather than two cellos. Violinist Sebastian Bohren led this quintet, which was more lyrical and less flashy than the earlier quartet. He was most successful among his peers in bringing his group together, with Cindy Lee (violin), Guan Qi and Shui Bing (violas) and Guo Hao (cello) joining him in a performance that had an easy flow. Rapport among the players was palpable and Guan's solos were especially convincing.

This programme was a welcome chance to bring together SSO musicians, many of whom would rarely have solo orchestral parts, to perform with members of an established quartet, with the bonus of delving into some of Beethoven's greatest early chamber works. Given the short time they had together, the results were gratifying and highly rewarding.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'Sizzling strings'. Print Edition | Subscribe