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Ten minutes to go! Stay tuned for the String Quartet final, coming soon.
We're off! The Elmire Quartet from Paris have kept us on our toes by starting with Beethoven's Op 132, rather than Nielsen's Op 13.
Correction - this is Nielsen!
Of course, who else could it be?! Apologies for that minor brain failure. Do not adjust your set. You are listening to Nielsen's Op 13, the third movement 'Scherzo'.
Energy courses through this piece by Carl Nielsen, especially in these two movements.
Despite the high opus number, this is Nielsen's first string quartet - written in 1888 but revised later.
Nielsen was clearly under the influence of Brahms and the German school, but still we can hear his own personality bursting out - the energy, the shape of the melodies, the dancing rhythms that underpin everything.
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If you have just joined us, we are listening to the first finalists of the evening - the Elmire Quartet from Paris, giving us Beethoven's String Quartet No 15 Op 132 complete.
Music so heavy with emotion, full of meaning and incident, and asking its performers to find a sophisticated balance between heads and hearts.
Suffering is so vital to Beethoven's late chamber works but in this piece, it's context - the epic slow movement, coming next, is a hymn of thanks from the composer after he recovered from illness.
17:28 is marked 'Molto adagio' - very slowly - and of course, playing at a consistently slow speed is far harder than playing at a consistently fast one.
The Elmire Quartet's members are aged between 24 and 27. They are currently on the Paris Conservatoire's Chamber Music Masters Degree programme but are already being noticed by festivals and professional training schemes - including the Festival Aix en Provence's Academy.
Taking on this epic Beethoven was brave, but the Elmire Quartet have really grown into it as their performance has proceeded.
They have been a great presence all week, and we have now heard the last from the Elmire Quartet. Au revoir!
We're taking a short break now, but be sure to join us again at 18.15 for the second of tonight's string quartet finalists, the Balourdet String Quartet from Houston.
Very nearly ready to go again with our friends from Houston, the Balourdet String Quartet.
Welcome back to the Houstonians! The Balourdet String Quartet have opted for the second of Beethoven's Razumovsky quartets.
...another quartet with a long 'Molto adagio' movement - worth saying, again, that it's far harder to sustain a long movement that's very slow, than a long movement that's very fast.
The language is also less clearly defined in this quartet: Beethoven's combination of humility and a sure sense of adventure, as he started to make the quartet genre his own.
One string player was explaining to me earlier, that the challenge of Beethoven's Op 59 works are that they're both horizontal and vertical - you have long-breathed melodies against sharp, dramatic accompaniments.
They may be from Houston, but the Balourdet Quartet comprises three Americans and a Korean. They met at Rice University in Houston.
...the ensemble has found its groove in this Beethoven Adagio. It is exquisitely balanced. They are making ferociously difficult music sound easier than it is. Respect!
18:40 example of an ensemble that has really grown through the three stages of the competition. It was a great decision to start with this Beethoven - a work that really suits them, in which they can lay out their strengths - and then give us some frolicsome Nielsen as a desert.
Nielsen's first quartet makes for an excellent release after all the pent-up emotion of Beethoven's.
It is the second time this week we have heard the work from the Balourdet Quartet.
Of course, Nielsen - like his exact contemporary Sibelius - was a string player. He spent 17 years as a member of the Royal Danish Orchestra, among the second violins (although for some of those, he was conducting more than playing).
Once again, the Balourdet String Quartet has piqued our interest with its physical configuration on stage. As in the first round, the violinists have swapped chairs, so two players get the chance to 'lead'. They also position their viola player Ben Zannoni on the outside. That might have something to do with the particularly blended sound we are hearing from the ensemble.
What a joy that was - these Houstonians have clearly fallen in love with Nielsen. Who can blame them?!
A good way to head into the break. Join us again in 10 minutes for the 'final' finalists....the Simply Quartet from Vienna.
Great to welcome the Simply Quartet back, especially as they bring us - again - the wonderful but tough world of Nielsen's Op 44.
You just never quite know where Nielsen's Op 44 quartet is heading...a little like the opera Maskarade that hails from same period. It occupies its own enchanting world!
And now, one of the big beasts of the quartet literature - Schubert's String Quartet No 14, 'Death and the Maiden'.
...not only does this ensemble reside in Vienna, Schubert's city, it won First Prize at the 'International Schubert and Modern Music Competition' in the city. The Simply Quartet knows its Schubert!
Why do we love Schubert so much? Perhaps because his music is so many things at one - human and inhuman, simple and complicated, stringent but vulnerable. It takes huge levels of empathy to get inside it.
...this ensemble from Vienna is definitely on the inside track.
Does it really mean anything, living in the city that spawned Haydn's, Beethoven's and Schubert's quartets? The Simply Quartet give the impression of having ingested this music through the city's streets and squares.
Now for the second movement from which the quartet takes its name. Schubert presents the melody to his own song 'Death and the Maiden' as a hushed chorale, and then presents a series of variations on it.
This variation movement tests an ensemble's ability to pace the music's building emotions. If it works, the audience should be hanging on every note.
...think that worked.
Well, that's it for the music...after an engrossing account of Schubert's Death and the Maiden from the Simply Quartet. We'll be back in 20 minutes with the jury's verdict.
There is some movement in the concert hall, which indicates that a jury verdict might be imminent...stay tuned.
We're into the prize ceremony now, and will have our winners in a matter of minutes.
Günter Pichler, jury chairman, praises the 'very high' level achieved at this year's string quartet competition.
Günter Pichler thanks Marie Rørbech, who has organised this competition so seamlessly. Hear hear!
Congratulations to the Simply Quartet of Vienna. A resounding and deserved win!
What a week it has been. Thanks for joining us for a thrilling competition, with so much great music and so many fascinating performances.
Happy listening, and see you again in 2023!