United Kingdom Haydn, Bartók, Beethoven: Doric Quartet [Alex Reddington, Jonathan Stone (violins), Hélène Clément (viola), John Myerscough (cello)], Cheltenham Music Festival, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 7.7.2016. (RJ)
Haydn: String Quartet in B minor Op 64 No 2
Bartók: Quartet No 4 in C
Beethoven: String Quartet No 8 in E minor Op 59 No 2 (Razumovsky)
It must be every performer’s nightmare: a medical emergency in one of the front rows in the middle of a recital – especially when you are performing one of the sublime movements of the chamber repertoire, the slow movement from Beethoven’s Second Razumovsky Quartet. I am pleased to report that such is the professionalism of the Doric Quartet that they didn’t bat an eyelid nor did their concentration waver: and they went on to complete the movement successfully.
The disruption was a pity because they had already proved their worth in the first movement of the Razumovsky with its two chords followed by silence and a whispered two-bar phrase which they developed with skill exploiting to the full the dramatic gestures that abound in the music. The Molto Adagio slow movement was as perfect a performance as one could wish for, and one could readily imagine the starry night sky which inspired Beethoven to compose music of such quality. Particularly admirable was the way the musicians sustained the sense of ecstasy throughout, so it was a shame that the audience was distracted by a “happening”.
The performance resumed some 15 minutes later, and the pause seemed to inject the Allegretto with an extra sparkle and freshness. A condition of Beethoven’s contract with Count Razumovsky was that he should include a Russian folk melody in each of the quartets written for him. The composer was stretching the point by using a patriotic hymn in the trio, but far from feeling gloomy there was a sprightliness about the melody which unfolded in fugal guise. The Presto finale was exhilarating and full of momentum ending in an exciting accelerando climax.
The Doric are great fans of Bartók, but I hardly feel their cellist needed to apologise for playing the great Hungarian composer’s music in the presence of a sophisticated Cheltenham Festival audience. The five-movement Quartet No 4 forms an arc, with two very individual scherzos separating the outer movements from the inner core of the work. The gruff opening to the first movement, with its jagged rhythms, opened up a very different sound world from the Haydn quartet which had preceded it, and the Doric brought all the intensity and drive that they could muster to the music. The first, muted, scherzo was played at lightning speed, the volume subtle and delicate, reminiscent of bees buzzing around a garden.
Cellist John Myerscough impressed in the rhapsodic melody of the slow movement as he emulated a Hungarian folk clarinet, and later the second violinist, Jonathan Stone, added his contribution to the plaintive mood. The second scherzo, which is linked thematically to the first, was played pizzicato throughout, with the Doric brilliantly purveying a wide range of dynamics and rhythmic interest. The finale was a torrent of rhythmic frenzy, which started off sounding like a monster steam locomotive getting into its stride and involved playing of the utmost commitment and energy. Many in the audience were caught up in the momentum and excitement generated by the performance and were enthusiastic in their applause for the Quartet’s tour de force. Really, the Doric had absolutely nothing at all to apologise for!
This recital along with Wednesday’s morning recital by Pascal and Ami Rogé is due to be broadcast on Radio 3 during August.