Tuesday 21st January, 2020 at 1.15pm

Every year, at least one of the ensembles that give us a main concert in Queen’s Cross Church agree to accept an invitation to give a shorter early afternoon concert at the Phoenix Hall, Newton Dee at Bieldside. There was a large audience representing the Newton Dee community themselves as well as a few of the regulars who attend the main Chamber Music Concerts. They had come to hear the Fitzroy Quartet play a couple of movements each by the composers represented at Monday’s concert, Mozart and Mendelssohn along with two movements from one of Schubert’s most popular Quartets, ‘The String Quartet No. 14 in d minor’ known popularly as ‘Death and the Maiden’. The nickname comes from the use of the melody from the Schubert Song of that title. The song theme is used in the second movement of the Quartet but the Fitzroy Quartet decided not to play that movement. Instead they played the third and fourth movements of the quartet which are surprisingly light hearted, energetic and positive. Programme notes on the work mention that it was composed in 1824 after Schubert had suffered a serious and ultimately fatal illness. He was also suffering from poverty and depression but the last two movements are described in German as ‘gemütlich’  music, which translates as ‘cosy’. But it’s not that at all is it? Rather, I feel it is jolly and rumbustious music. At least it was certainly that as played by the Fitzroy Quartet.  It made Schubert, we are told, ‘the toast of Viennese society’? 

Actually, nearly all the music chosen by the Fitzroy Quartet for today’s afternoon concert was exactly that. This was a perfect choice for today’s audience because positivity, enthusiasm and life affirmation are very much the watchwords of the Newton Dee Community. I always feel that warm welcoming atmosphere as soon as I visit there.

The performances were introduced light-heartedly by the cellist Michael Newman. The concert opened with the first and last movements of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 14 in G Major, K387. Sitting near the front of the Phoenix Hall which anyway has a fine acoustic for chamber music, I felt almost as if I were myself taking part in the concert. I mentioned yesterday the clarity of the opening movement. That was even more intensely felt today. It was great to feel how the music moved from one instrument to another as though they were allowing us to join in listening to their musical conversations. The shaping of the fugal music in the finale came through with even greater clarity too. 

I loved the shudders of the playing that introduced the themes throughout the Scherzo in the intense and lively playing of the second movement of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in e minor Op.44 no.2. The delicious melodic content of third movement (Andante) was delightfully played too.

In a way some of us were disappointed that the second movement of the Schubert with its popular theme was not played, but, what ho! Let’s keep the mood a cheerful one and the happy looks on the faces of the audience proved that this was the correct choice. Thank-you Fitzroy Quartet. That audience tends to remember the concerts they hear and I am sure they will be speaking enthusiastically about you for a long time to come.   

The Fitzroy Quartet at the Pheonix Hall – 21st January 2020: Review