Monday 17th February
Technical and artistic playing at its very finest in three of the most outstanding quartets in the entire repertoire ensured that Monday’s performance by the Doric Quartet turned out to be a uniquely memorable experience. The Quartets by Haydn, Britten and Schubert are among the most cutting-edge examples of these composers’ works in the genre. They sat together particularly well in the programme too since although the three quartets are strikingly different, there were elements in each that chimed together and made for a particularly satisfying artistic combination. Take for instance the opening movements of Haydn’s Quartet in B flat Op.76 No.4 and Britten’s Quartet No.2 Op.36 – both contain startling alternations in texture, intensity and string colour. This was surely true of Schubert’s Quartet in G Major Op.161 as well. The excellent programme note drew our attention to the fact that in Schubert’s Quartet, “The Quartet writing becomes almost orchestral at times” – but is this not even more true of the Britten Quartet especially in its final movement, and in both these works, the cellist often plays a particularly prominent role.
In the opening movement of the Haydn Quartet, delicious chords out of which the first violin soars alternated with sizzling fast playing and then more than once the pace slowed once again to allow sinuous playing that highlighted all four performers. The Doric Quartet gave us the full intensity of each of these effects building a musical patchwork that was finally revealed as a satisfying whole.
The Adagio gave us dark rich warmth that was strongly coloured by fine playing from cellist John Myerscough. There was a return to the light with the rhythmically outgoing Menuetto and in the trio a touch of rustic jollity too. The finale was as much dance-like as song-like I thought and in this performance the spirited accelerando ending bubbled with Haydn’s customary happy good humour.
The opening movement of Britten’s Quartet took the variety that exists in the Haydn Quartet much farther. There was so much variety of string sound and texture including a moment of English romantic outpouring from the first violin. What gave this music an orchestral breadth was the way in which Britten gives every instrument its own special voice rising out of the ensemble in so many different ways.
The Scherzo featured marvellous energetic playing from everyone and the final movement could stand alone as a piece for miniature string orchestra – in fact I read in the programme note that Britten did in fact arrange it for string orchestra. All the instruments stood out though once again it was the cello that was predominant.
This was also true more than once throughout the Schubert Quartet. Again there were echos of both the Haydn and Britten Quartets in the way that Schubert alternated powerful impassioned music with delicate elegance, something that the players of the Doric Quartet projected superbly well. In the Andante the cello once again has a formidable role while in the third movement he duetted beautifully with the violin. The Doric captured the contrast between the almost skittish scherzo with the smooth swaying trio to perfection and the bright energetic finale interlaced with moments of delicacy flowed uninterruptedly towards the firmness of its wholly satisfying conclusion.
All three works in the programme were very substantial and as one audience member commented – “The Doric Quartet certainly gave us good value for our money!” vvvv