From the yearning angst of Webern’s Langsamer Satz to Beethoven’s rather more joyful tenth String Quartet in Eb major (Op. 74), Solem are adept and constantly brilliant, holding their audience rapt from start to finish through enthusiasm and vitality of playing.
It is clear from the opening bars of the Langsamer Satz that Solem have full mastery of their performance; true cohesiveness is rare yet Solem have it, every note attack is timed to perfection. As with string quartets, it is even more remarkable that this acute sense of ensemble is achieved without a conductor. A dip of the shoulder or lifting of the elbow are all the cues that are required.
This is a group who sincerely loves what they do, they revel in the tension of the Langsamer Satz, as they lead us to a cascading thunderstorm of a climax which gives way to an emotionally indulgent section of swooping melodies underpinned with pizzicato.
The introduction to the first movement of the Beethoven Quartet is an excellent demonstration of how musical composition and performance is as much about the space between the notes as the notes themselves. Solem make the most of these empty bars; by emphasising the rests, delighting in the silence. The almost schizophrenic succeeding section jumpstarts the piece with sforzandi, out of which emerges a pulsating repeated note motif on the higher strings accompanied by Tress’ plummy cello pizzicato.
Beethoven remains faithful to his own stereotype throughout this quartet by drawing out the codas, teasing our ears as long as he wishes before finally dropping the longed for cadence.
Diverging from the sustained chords that characterise the second, Adagio ma non troppo, Landen’s jaunty high pitched arpeggiated chords on second violin provide a decorated background for Tress’ (Amy) more mellow first violin melody exploring the lower register. The movement concludes in much the same way the first began, with a multitude of rests protracting the resolution.
The fourth movement begins with a return to the major, the quartet playing off each other during an extended passage of imitation. As the music gathers pace towards the end, Solem move as one, navigating frantic scales with finesse. They give the impression of letting the music direct itself, snatching back control before the piece runs away with itself completely, with a delicately poised and almost comic perfect cadence.
Solem play with a committed vigour and mature assertion often attributed to longer established ensembles, without compromising having fun; surely a sign of good things to come.