Doric Quartet Play Haydn and Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Haydn, Schubert: Doric String Quartet, Wigmore Hall, Sunday May 1st, 2011 (CC)

Haydn: String Quartet in C, Op. 20/2

Schubert: String Quartet in D minor, D810, “Death and the Maiden”


The Doric String Quartet’s recordings have created quite a stir in the critical and record buying communities. The Wigmore Live disc of Haydn quartets has been particularly successful and is certainly the most pertinent for this review, as it consists of three of Papa Haydn’s Quartets. I have been impressed by the Doric’s Haydn Op. 20/6 in the (an evening concert that found Haydn coupled with Mendelssohn and Berg), and the second quartet from the Op. 20 set was similarly delightful here. It was the clear highlight of the concert, in fact.

Composed in 1782, Op. 20/2 (one of the so-called “Sun” quartets) is an interestingly structured work. A Moderato first movement leads to the seeming contradiction of headings for the second movement, “Capriccio: Adagio cantabile”; the fourth movement finale is a fugue. Throughout the Doric’s playing was a constant source of delight. The agile, low-vibrato violins, the light cello line of the opening and the drama of the development of the first movement (including a nice exploration of the final cadential figure of the exposition) all set the standard. The slow movement was the jewel, though. Elements of implied recitative shone, and a special word of praise should go to first violinist Alex Redington for his sweet tone. The drones of the third movement were mightily effective; rusticity permeated the air. Criticisms? Only that perhaps the finale was not really a Presto, more an Allegro. Yet it remained fascinating, the playful aspects of the musical material creating a friction with the archaic form of the fugue.

The Schubert did not perhaps attain the same exalted heights. Drama was certainly there, and spoke through the telling silences. The development was genuinely exploratory. The playing was straight throughout, though, with little sense of “give”, perhaps to contrast with the famous Andante con moto. Here, true, whispered pianissimos reminded us of the textural range of this quartet (the first movement had held the fullest sonorities so far). The finale was interesting: deliberately clipped rhythms imparted a breathless feel. Did they try to create the feeling of a Presto by this means? (the tempo itself felt slower than this indicator might imply).

Certainly there was a distinct feeling that he Doric was far more at home in the Haydn than in the Schubert. They have a real following – the place was full to the rafters.

Colin Clarke