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Digital Subscriptions > The Strad > September 2019 > PASSING THE TORCH

PASSING THE TORCH

Expert encouragement in their early years helped turn the Belcea Quartet into one of today’s most formidable chamber ensembles. Twenty-five years after they started out, they talk to Tom Stewart about passing on their experience to the next generation – as well as continuing to gain knowledge themselves
The Belcea Quartet – violinists Corina Belcea and Axel Schacher, violist Krzysztof Chorzelski and cellist Antoine Lederlin – perform at Stockholm Concert Hall in April 2019

We have to be sure as a group what we want to achieve before we sit down to rehearse, ’ says Belcea Quartet second violinist Axel Schacher. With its members divided between Switzerland and the UK, the group does not have the luxury of an open-ended rehearsal schedule, but Schacher’s point applies equally well to quartets who do, he says. ‘Even if you’re all living and working in the same city, thinking before a rehearsal, “Oh, let’s just see where this ends up…” means spending twice as much time on achieving the same result.’

Founded in 1994 at the Royal College of Music in London, the quartet today comprises two original members, Romanian first violinist Corina Belcea and Polish violist Krzysztof Chorzelski, who were joined in 2006 by French cellist Antoine Lederlin and in 2010 by the Swiss–French Schacher. ‘We can’t afford more time or to keep changing our flights, ’ Schacher says, explaining how geographical inconvenience demands an efficiency that in his words appears to border on the utilitarian. ‘If we get to the end of a rehearsal and something isn’t right? Well, we have to deal with it one way or another.’

The group’s artistry has not, however, been compromised by logistics. I met them in London in April, the afternoon before a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. They began that evening with Haydn’s G major Quartet op.33 no.5, playing almost without vibrato but with a focus and precision that might have sounded almost electronic had it not been for the deeply human subtleties of shading and balance. Next came a haunting, greyscale performance of Shostakovich’s op.57 Piano Quintet in G minor alongside Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski. In the scherzo they erupted into a bacchanalian fireball that would have burnt out of control given anything less than the most scrupulous preparation, while their account of Janáček’s String Quartet no.2 (‘Intimate Letters’) balanced the music’s oddball idiosyncrasies with moments of almost transcendent emotional purity. Recent recordings of Ligeti, Janáček and Shostakovich (on Alpha) reveal more details of the quartet’s clear-sighted playing with each listen, like fractals unfurling in sound.

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About The Strad

We talk to the members of the Belcea Quartet and ask why more young people are turning to period performance. Students of Kató Havas pay tribute to the late violin teacher, and there’s a look at asymmetric instruments. Plus a Mendelssohn Masterclass and Renaud Capuçon’s Life Lessons.