by Rachel Beaumont

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Bad robots: Tana Quartet at the Wigmore Hall

Tana String Quartet
Wigmore Hall
Stalls F15, £5 (under-35s)
5 July 2018
Wigmore page

Debussy, String Quartet in G minor
Ligeti, String Quartet no. 1
Bartók, String Quartet no. 4
Robin, String Quartet no. 3 (UK premiere)
Encore: Glass, String Quartet no. 3

This concert was a mystery to me. The Tana Quartet played all the right notes at the right time in the right way; they were very clean, very precise, very together and very in tune. But for the three pieces in the programme I knew, particularly the Bartók, I overwhelmingly had the impression that they simply didn’t get it. This is obviously absurd: they’re strong musicians and must know all this music inside and out and upside down, far better than I ever will. But they just didn’t get it. Some fine nuance in attack and in timing, some slight alteration to the relative balance of notes, made the music almost nonsensical. If in the future robots take over music performance from humans, then maybe this is what it will sound like (although presumably robots will be better at aping the great recordings by players who do get it).

The Robin was written for the quartet and was preceded by an ill-advised and overly explanatory but sweetly enthusiastic introduction from the first violinist: clearly the quartet and the composer have a close relationship, which suggests others see in them something I can’t. The piece is a hurly-burly crash of madness, a frenetic furore that tumbles out over the players and crushingly storms away. Its rhythmic aggression is the sort of thing that usually seriously floats my boat but here I even drifted into vague boredom as I wondered what could be signified by all this fury. Maybe it’s just not my quartet, or just not my night.

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