La Scena Musicale

Saturday, March 13, 2010

German quartet wowed in Toronto

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

The Hugo Wolf Quartett made its Toronto debut with Music Toronto at the Jane Mallett Theatre on March 11.

And this string quartet from Germany can play.

Made up of violinists Sebastian Gürtler, Régis Bringolf, violist Gertrud Weinmeister, and cellist Florian Berner, the quartet, founded at the Vienna Conservatory in 1993, opened the concert with Mozart’s String Quartet No. 21 in D major, K. 575, Prussian No. 1. Their articulation was clear and their sound pure and simple, with little or no vibrato. Gürtler’s phrasing was expressive without excess, and he was matched with an impeccable blend from the rest of the ensemble. It was Mozart as it should be, which always sounds easier than it actually is.

Immediately following Mozart, the quartet leaped 120 years forward with Webern’s Five Movements for Sting Quartet, Op. 5. Here, the players fed off each other’s sporadic squeaks and shrills with precision and taste. The auditorium was driven with an eerie suspense that lasted through each and every nuance, climax, and dead silence.

The showpiece of the program was Schubert’s Quartet in D minor, D. 810, better known as Death and the Maiden. From the fiendishly driven opening Allegro, the quartet displayed a superb sense of tension that was both urgent and paced. The cello, prominently featured throughout this piece, was played beautifully by Berner, who delivered some haunting solos and sweet melodies. Weinmeister on the viola was poised, her tone warm and sombre. Bringolf countered with perfect intensity and Gürtler kept the quartet in check in a gripping performance that was full of energy and excitement.

The piece ended with a unison “Wow” from the audience.

Returning to stage for an encore, the Hugo Wolf Quartett played the third movement of Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2, Intimate Letters with outpouring emotion, leaving a trail of poignancy lingering in the brisk evening air.

This quartet was at times rigid but never dull. Their stellar sound and wonderful presence make them well worth hearing live. A return engagement in the near future is most welcome.