Six String Quartets, Op.33
Doric String Quartet [Alex Redington & Ying Xue (violins), Hélène Clément (viola) & John Myerscough (cello)]
Recorded December 2019 & March 2020 at Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: October 2020
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 20129 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 8 minutes
The Doric Quartet takes an individual approach to shaping Haydn’s music. The players’ ability to express a phrase meaningfully and then progress to the next musical idea without interrupting the flow is an admirable characteristic. Occasionally themes contrast so greatly that this approach means that the speed is sometimes adjusted – the opening movement of No.4 is an example but in general freedom of tempo in the substantial outer movements is used sensibly. Both repeats are made when the music is in sonata form and this sometimes gives the opportunity to underline the strength of the final bars by relaxing before them – but this device is used only on the second repeat.
The form of these works differs from that of Haydn’s earlier Quartets because dance movements are marked Scherzo rather than Minuet and in the first four works that movement is placed second. There is more than a hint of eccentricity from the Doric Quartet when performing them. All is well in No.1, indeed the whole performance is very stylish and in the Scherzo the demanding instruction Allegro di molto is skilfully realised. In No.4 too there is full understanding of the nature of the music which is called Scherzo but is actually very serious and the slow tempo taken throughout is ideal.
Elsewhere in these movements strange things happen. Nos.5 and 6 suffer from the worn-out old tradition of Trio being slower than Scherzo, also the gaps around the Trio in No.4 sound awkward. In the equivalent movement of No.2 the Doric is at its most eccentric. After the rapidly-paced Scherzo there is a huge pause and at a tempo which might be described as ‘Molto collapse’ the first violin imposes an extremely exaggerated portamento – I know this is the ‘Joke’ Quartet but this goes beyond one. What then of the Finale with its highly amusing ending? In this performance it is ideal; the music is raced through excitingly and the ‘Joke’ at the end is played absolutely straight to hilarious effect.Appreciation or otherwise of these performances concentrates on acceptance or otherwise of the Scherzos. Elsewhere there are plenty of examples in which the personal approach works: the amazingly fast Finale to No.3, the very slow and deeply moving account of No.4’s Adagio and even the final movement of No.1: rapid but accurate and here portamento is used modestly but to great effect.