The Pro Arte Quartet at Weill Recital Hall

For a musical ensemble with a famous name, legacy is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a storied name can grab attention. On the other, an illustrious history can be burdensome when it sets up expectations that are difficult to live up to. The Pro Arte Quartet, which performed at Weill Recital Hall on Wednesday evening, is presumably acquainted with both sides of the issue.

A more striking pedigree would be hard to imagine. Founded in Belgium in 1912, the original Pro Arte Quartet played for royalty; introduced new pieces by composers like Schoenberg, Bartok and Barber; and recorded regularly, including sessions with the pianist Artur Schnabel. The group’s 1926 American debut at the Library of Congress was followed by frequent tours of this country.

Stranded here by Hitler’s invasion of Belgium in 1940, the quartet was taken in by the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where it established a performing and teaching residency claimed to be the first of its kind at a major American university. According to the group’s Web site, (proartequartet.org), 26 musicians have been part of the quartet at one time or another.

Read the full review in The New York Times here.

Dvořák, Shostakovich, Brahms and fireworks from Bychkov, the LSO

Semyon Bychkov has already impressed me with his handling of last year’s revival of the Royal Opera House’s Don Carlos, so his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra was one of the concerts that jumped out at me when I was doing my last bit of booking back in December. Just as well.

He opened his programme with Dvořák’s Carnival Overture. While I’m a big fan of Dvořák, this isn’t a piece that’s ever especially grabbed me before and hence not one I know all that well. From the opening bars I began to wonder why. Bychkov unleashed the LSO in a phenomenal display of energy and precision. It made for a real party piece, full of orchestral fireworks, and an excellent curtain raiser.

After a brief pause while the piano was raised up through the floor (an always fun to watch quirk of the Barbican – much more interesting than just having it pushed on from the back of the stage), Denis Matsuev joined them for Shostakovich’s 2nd piano concerto. He proved every bit the match to Bychkov and the LSO. He maintained clarity through some rapid and intricate passages and found all the necessary weight without recourse to thumping the keyboard. Beneath him, Bychkov balanced his forces well, ensuring the pianist wasn’t overwhelmed by the comparatively large orchestra. And yet it wasn’t all fireworks – there was plenty of tenderness and beauty in the slow movement.

Read the full blog review here.