Monday 20th January, 2020

The fourth of six concerts in Aberdeen Chamber Music’s current subscription series was given by The Fitzroy Quartet formed at the Royal Academy of Music in 2014. Dan-Iulian Drutac, their first violin comes originally from Moldova. He is a graduate of the Guildhall. Second violinist Laura Custodio Sabas from Catalonia along with violist Emily Pond and cellist Michael Newman are all graduates of the Royal Academy. Their programme today was wide ranging with quartets by Mozart, Bartók and Mendelssohn offering performances each of which had especially fine qualities.

Let’s start with Mozart and his String Quartet no.14 in G Major, K387. What was particularly impressive about today’s performance by the Fitzroy Quartet was their particular lightness of touch throughout the entire piece. As one audience member said to me after the performance, too many quartets when they play Mozart, especially in the earlier music go at it far too hard. In the opening Allegro, the bowing by the Fitzroy Quartet brought out the bright jaunty qualities of the music making it dance airily along. In addition, their minimal variations in dynamics, rhythm and pauses within their phrasing made the shaping of the sonata form stand out wonderfully cleanly.

The Fitzroy players gave the minuet section of the second movement the sense of a charming light-footed dance. The trio section had a dramatic opening introducing music that had the merest touch of tristesse and then with the return of the minuet, the rhythmic stresses were just that little bit different as if altered by what had gone before. I was reminded of Mozart the operatic composer. That idea followed through into the Andante cantabile. At the outset the cello sang out with great warmth while the first violin warbled ornamentally above and the second violin and viola duetted beautifully. The idea of music for the stage shone through in this performance. The finale had marvellous fugal passages played strongly by the quartet in contrast with the otherwise lightness of the playing but this was absolutely correct.

I was particularly impressed by the Fitzroy’s performance of the String Quartet no. 3 by Béla Bartók. Not knowing the piece that well, I listened during the afternoon to a couple of performances on the internet. I was not that captivated. The two quartets went at the music with considerable ferocity bringing out the rhythmic barbarity of the music but not much else. That rhythmic fierceness is certainly there in Bartók’s music and the Fitzroy players captured it well, but there was something else more important in their performance. That was the many melodic patterns within the music shared between members of the quartet and passed from one to another. The sense of the folk music that had inspired the composer was there too. This gave me a completely different response to the music and dare I say that this was a performance that Bartók himself would have liked.

Bartók’s music was not a favourite of everyone in the audience as some said but they were very much looking forward to the performance of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in e minor, op.44 no.2. I am certain they were not disappointed. The splendid fingerboard work in the opening movement especially on the cello at whom I was looking directly was marvellous. I’m sure the others were as splendid but I could not see them so clearly. It was delightful to hear how Mendelssohn made his melodies pass across the quartet from one player to another. This is what makes music by the composers of the romantic period so instantly attractive. The fleet winged Scherzo was high speed playing at its lightest and there was a delightful moment of pizzicato cello towards the conclusion of the movement.

In the Andante, the second violin provided a delicious arpeggiated backing for the melody sung out clearly by the first violin while the viola and cello gave fine chording. I loved the way that the arpeggiated figures became involved in the melodic playing of all the instruments as the movement moved towards its close.

The finale had wonderful gusty rhythms as the music was blown hither and thither across the quartet. What an attractive performance. I look forward to hearing the Fitzroy Quartet out at the Phoenix Hall in Newton Dee Village at 1.15 on Tuesday 21st January. Everyone is welcome to come!

The next concert in Queen’s Cross is only three weeks away. The Engegård String Quartet will play music by Mozart, Sibelius and Grieg.

The Fitzroy Quartet – 20th January 2020: Review