Tokyo Quartet: Assembly Rooms, Bath
THERE are hundreds of fine string quartets in the world, but the Tokyo is the cream, and the Bathfest was very lucky to catch them on their latest tour.
The ensemble was founded 40 years ago, and has a special style, very precise, very accurate, yet rich and intense. The four players, two Japanese, two Western, seem to share one mind, so great is the empathy between them.
They opened with Haydn, a composer who suits their style perfectly, and played the Quartet in F, op. 77 No.2 crisply and economically, bringing out the tight structure of the work, which has a wonderful flowing circular tune for the Andante, and a bouncy cheerful finale.
The meat in the sandwich was unusual: Szymanowski's String Quartet No 1 rarely gets an airing, which is a shame, because it is a highly original, haunting work, with a distinct French flavour and some way-out harmonies. Played by masters, it had a hypnotic quality, especially in the slow opening where the sound seems to shimmer and vanish before your very ears.
The final work was also a rarity, too: Schumann's Quartet in A minor op. .41, No 1. Schumann studied the masters of the form, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, before he wrote it, and the result is less romantic than you'd expect, for he sticks to the concise classical layout.
In fact the real influence seemed to be Mendelssohn, for there was the same light-footed scampering figures and a whirlwind finale, played at brilliant speed. For the inevitable encore, it was Haydn again, the genial Minuet from op.77 No 1 - this is the composer you guess they love best.The only wisp of criticism is that playing so faultless can sometimes sound a little impersonal.