Satisfying, Stimulating Lunchtime Fare from the Carducci String Quartet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Glass, Pärt, Dvořák: Carducci String Quartet [Matthew Denton, Michelle Fleming (violins); Eoin Schmidt-Martin (viola); Emma Denton (cello)]. Wigmore Hall, London, 19.6.2017. (CC)

Glass – String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima”

Pärt –  Summa (1977, arr. cpsr. 1990)

Dvořák – String Quartet in F, Op. 96, “American”

The Carducci Quartet’s reputation has been steadily growing, and performances at the Wigmore Hall have played a big part in that rise in stature. They famously gave several complete cycles of the Shostakovich String Quartets, each cycle given in one day (this site’s review of the performances at London’s The Globe is here). Although comprising four remarkably youthful-looking individuals, the quartet has actually been together for some twenty years.

This was inspired programming. Glass and Pärt, each with their individual take on minimalist practice, shed remarkable light on the music of Dvořák, particularly as regards his repetitive “accompanimental” figures, which suddenly seemed to be especially vibrant.

First, though, we heard Glass’ Third String Quartet of 1985. The subtitle, “Mishima,” reflects the work’s history, referring to Paul Schrader’s 1984 biographical film of that title for which Glass wrote the music. The film concentrated on the attack by Mishima on the military headquarters at Ichigaya, and his ritual suicide. Cast in six movements, with each taking its name from a segment of the movie, this quarter-hour piece requires the core skills of the Carducci Quartet: intelligence, an ability to balance textures carefully and a clear projection of Glass’ “panelled” textures. The performance was a triumph.

The programme moved from American minimalism to Estonian, Arvo Pärt’s Summa, a brief piece that investigates G minor through the repetition of sequences which we hear in different ways thanks to metrical shiftings. The very pure texture given by the Carducci Quartet seemed reminiscent of that which a viol consort might provide. The occasional use of perfect intervals sometimes gave a surprisingly “American” flavour, presumably a deliberate ploy in the light of just hearing the Glass.

Finally we heard Dvořák’s F major Quartet, which dates from 1893 while the composer was resident in Iowa, USA. A clear, out and out masterpiece; this performance was beautifully blended, with particularly impressive contributions from the Carducci’s violist, Eoin Schmidt-Martin. The composer’s splitting of the quartet into the two violins against the viola and cello as two units seemed to echo Pärt’s use of just that technique. Whilst the first violin, Matthew Denton, could perhaps have used a warmer tone in the Lento, the movement rose to a good level of intensity and the third movement (a Molto vivace) was bright and beautifully together. In the bouncy, jolly finale perhaps we heard pre-echoes of Glass in the internal repetitions.

No encore, alas, but this was a satisfying, stimulating lunchtime concert.

Colin Clarke

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