The Belcea String Quartet appeared on the Richardson Auditorium stage in Alexander Hall on the campus of Princeton University on October 13, 2016. This was announced as their inaugural appearance in Princeton. The world-renowned quartet includes Corina Belcea, violin; Axel Schacher, violin; Krzysztof Chorzelski, viola; and Antoine Lederlin, cello.
The theme of the evening was “Classical Masters in the Romantic Era.” As Peter Laki explains in his program notes, Schubert and Brahms were uniquely poised at the end of Classicism and the beginning of the Romantic Era. Both composers believed that music should be passionate, evoking strong sentiments in the listener. Passion and emotion were the hallmarks of the Romantic Movement.
The Belcea Quartet is known for its passionate realization of the works in their repertoire. This was proved when the four first walked onto the stage. The three men wore what appeared to be costumes we would have associated with gypsy violinists in restaurants of a bygone era. With red cuffs, collars and piping on their black shirts and slacks, they cut an astonishing ensemble.
Corina Belcea, their leader, wore a remarkable dress: a body-shaping, blood-red sheath with mystifying devices upon it. If words could do this dress justice, it looked as if bats had been shot out of paint-ball guns, splattering their body fluids over the entire dress, forming dozens of Rorschach-test-like blobs overall, with sparkling tears undoubtedly collected either from Bluebeard’s wives or from the full moon clearly in evidence that evening in the sky. Ms. Belcea appeared to be an enchantress here this night to create a world of sonic mystery, abetted by her male trio.
Franz Schubert’s Quartet No. 12 in C Minor, D. 703, “Quarttettsatz” (1820), began the program. Immediately, we were bathed in the luscious, mellifluous sound this quartet is known for. Schubert left only this movement, never returning to complete the other movements of the quartet. Being only one movement (the definition of “Quarttettsatz”), it was a short piece, but altogether beautifully played.
Johannes Brahms’ Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2 (1873) followed. As one movement led into another, then another, until the fourth and last movement, the audience was spellbound, silent, deep in reverie excited by this terrific ensemble.
Franz Shubert’s Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden” (1824) was the featured work for the second half of the program. As the program notes remind us, Schubert was hospitalized in late 1823. The syphilis that he had contracted years before was now progressing. Not yet 27, he would not have much longer to live a full life, but rather the life of an invalid. Hopeful sentiments alternate with despairing sentiments throughout this emotionally-charged piece. The Belcea Quartet’s playing of the piece was magnificent. The house rose to its feet to give the musicians great acclaim, calling them back several times for renewed rounds of applause.
[Princeton University Alexander Hall] October 13, 2016; princetonuniversityconcerts.org
Among the outstanding concerts of Princeton University Concert’s 123rd season, the Takacs String Quartet will play all Beethoven’s string quartets. For information on the 2016-2017 season, visit princetonuniversityconcerts.org