The Doric Quartet Shine in Haydn

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Haydn: Doric String Quartet (Alex Redington, Jonathan Stone (violins), Hélène Clément viola, John Myerscough (cello)). Wigmore Hall, London, 22.2.2018. (CC)

Haydn – String Quartet in C Op.64/1; String Quartet in B minor Op.64/2; String Quartet in B flat Op.64/3

Timed to coincide with the release of the Doric Quartet’s excellent recording of Haydn’s complete Op.64 over two discs on Chandos (CHAN10971, volume 3 of their Haydn Quartet series), this concert offered the first three quartets. The remaining quartets, Nos. 4-6, will be heard on Wednesday February 28. With no encore, the concert was slightly short measure in duration terms, but the compensation was the sheer joy in experiencing three Haydn quartets in one evening.

Haydn’s invention is unflagging, his 1790 set of six quartets a source of unending delight. The Doric Quartet first appeared on the recording scene in Haydn with a Wigmore Hall Live release of the quartets Opp. 9/4, 50/2, 76/1 and an encore, the finale of Op.50/1. Since 2010, the Doric Quartet has recorded exclusively for Chandos. Their playing is distinguished by polished interpretations that are clearly the result of intense rehearsal. They think as one onstage, and the sheer amount of eye-contact between players is a clear indication of the rapport here. I heard them in 2011 (review); they seem if anything even stronger and more confident now.

The evening was also a salutary reminder of the Wigmore as a superb venue for the string quartet. The sound was beautifully supported; from mid-stalls the projection seemed perfect. Vibrato was kept to a minimum, particularly from the cellist, leading to lean, but powerful, performances.

If the Doric took a while to find their feet in the opening C major Quartet, as the evening went on their attunement to Haydn’s world came ever more in focus. The live account of the first movement of Op.64/1 felt rather diffuse in comparison with the Chandos recording. Certainly, there is a rawness and freshness to both that is most appealing. There is no true slow movement in Op.64/1; instead an Allegretto ma non troppo Menuet (great accents) precedes an Allegretto scherzando set of two variations, the first foregrounding the excellent second violin of Jonathan Stone. The finale, a scampering Presto revealed truly astounding articulation at speed from all four instrumentalists. More, the four players conveyed Haydn’s surprises as a source of great wit.

The Quartet, Op.64/2 is in the relatively rare key (for Haydn) of B minor; Mozart, too, reserved this key for special occasions. The first violin, Alex Redington, deliberately (one assumes) did not wait for the audience to settle down before starting his solo line; it was left to the music to enrapture the audience. This Haydn quartet has distinctly proto-Beethovenian leanings, full of knitted eyebrows and grit in the first movement and with a Beethovenian intensity and marked Elysian pinings to the B major Adagio ma non troppo slow movement. The cello variation in the latter was particularly memorable, John Myerscough superbly eloquent. There was no missing the minor-key slant to the Menuet before a gypsy-flavoured finale offered remarkable formal sophistication in amongst all the play, some deliberately rustic violin sonorities offering more grit, but of a decidedly Haydnesque variety this time.

The B-flat Quartet is quirky, with the composer continually undermining any attempts at the serious. A peasant dance sits with passages of rigid counterpoint; trilling violins sing childishly before suddenly diminuendoing into decidedly adult depths of emotion. The Doric Quartet was perfectly chameleon in nature, while the beautifully nocturnal Adagio was given with minimum vibrato and heart-stopping beauty. Into this staggered the robust Minuet and drunk Trio of the third movement before the scampering finale, with its quizzical slowings to a chorale-like texture, burst on the scene. This was a wonderful, fully involving, performance.

One felt the Wigmore should have been bursting to capacity but in fact there was significant space. One hopes the sequel concert will get the full house it deserves.

Colin Clarke

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