S&H Chamber Music Review

HAYDN Quartet Op. 55/1 BOCCHERINI Quintet op. 42/1 BEETHOVEN Op. 131 Vanbrugh String Quartet Conway Hall, London 11 March 2001 (PGW)

The statistics for this venerable series astonish, and there has been no comparable long-term success in the metropolis apart from the Proms, which were taken over by the BBC. LCMS is one of the worthiest of music charities, and despite the vicissitudes which beset all arts organisations, has maintained its concerts week by week as declared proudly at the top of every programme sheet. The price (£5 including programme) has always been ridiculously cheap - I used to go to these concerts as a student more than fifty years ago - and the younger generation is encouraged now by free entry to 8-12s and for students 18-22. The regular audience is predominantly within the Vavo.com target age bracket, and is loyal and knowledgeable, generally filling the hall for string quartet evenings. It is inspiring to be amongst them. Conversation buzzes in the foyer and tea/coffee room during the interval.

The Vanbrugh Quartet visits Conway Hall regularly, and there is nowhere in London better acoustically for listening to chamber music. Surprisingly Haydn's in A from Op. 55 had not been heard in the series before, though his are perennial favourites. Maybe the tricky high passages for the leader in the first movement are off-putting, especially since Haydn is usually played first. It is surely time for the London Chamber Music Society to embark upon a complete Haydn quartets series, spread over as long as it takes, within its programmes?

Beethoven's C# minor, a huge span in nine continuous sections, was given a deeply satisfying and thoughtful performance, with each musician listening, matching and responding to his colleagues in lively and profound wordless conversation. These quartets are amongst the imperishable peaks of all music and after a disappointing experience of one of them at a far more prestigious event during the week, faith was fully restored by the Vanbrughs. Changing the advertised order, the second half was, unusually, devoted to virtuoso cellist-composer Boccherini [left]and his century and more of string quintets with two cellos (required after he settled in Spain) - delightful lighter music with syncopation a hallmark of his style. Though they will never rival Schubert's sole example in popularity (excepting the famous Minuet with muted violins and pizzicato below them - the inevitable encore) this body of work is well worth exploring.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Future plans: Next Sunday 18 March at 6.30 the South Place Sunday Concert is of Beethoven, Dvorak & Brahms given by the Touchwood Piano Quartet. On 6 May the LCMS has a charity piano recital by Freddy Kempf at the RAM. (020 7483 2450)

The Vanbrugh Quartet with Richard Lester is about to embark upon recording Boccherini Quintets for Hyperion.)

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