A blistering, powerful performance of Brahms's Piano Quintet was the high point

Officially formed in 1969, the Tokyo String Quartet can lay claim to being one of the longest-lived of today's chamber groups. Of course, the line-up has seen changes over those 40-plus years, but a notable marker is due to be set down in the summer of 2013, when violist Kazuhide Isomura, the last original member of the group, and long-standing second violinist Kikuei Ikeda, who goes back to 1974, retire.

As players come and go, the sound and style of a string quartet inevitably change. That has happened to the Tokyo String Quartet as much as any, but it is impressive how little the quality of the playing has wavered, as their Wigmore Hall appearance on Monday showed.

These days the Tokyo sound is big-boned, rich, with an almost glossy sheen. It is not perhaps the obvious personality for Haydn - the classical grip of the Belcea Quartet or the cool perfection of the Emersons, in their different ways, make a better fit - but that did not stop the Tokyo musicians giving an involving performance of the late Quartet, Op. 77 No. 1. At its best, their playing swept along, carrying the music irresistibly forwards.

Debussy's String Quartet, completed in 1893, lives in the shadow of Wagner and, thanks to the Tokyo players' burnished tone, the link was clearer than usual. The slow movement opened with a brooding warmth (how far away the pale, moonlit sound of the Alban Berg Quartet's memorable recording seemed) and at its climax the performance bubbled over into hothouse romanticism.

It was with Brahms's Piano Quintet, though, that the Tokyo players came into their own. In their last season together with the present line-up this is a work they are performing at a number of venues internationally, mostly with different pianists. Here, they were joined by Andreas Haefliger and the partnership struck a well-nigh ideal balance between strength and ardour. Perhaps the opening movement has seen more titanic performances, but by the halfway mark these players were scorching the earth behind them as a rich-toned Andante led on to a blistering Scherzo and a finale of powerful momentum - hopefully a pointer to continued success after the Tokyo String Quartet renews itself with new members next year.

Richard Fairman, The Financial Times
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