String Quartet in A minor, Op.41/1
String Quartet in F, Op.41/2
String Quartet in A, Op.41/3
Doric String Quartet [Alex Redington & Jonathan Stone (violins), Simon Tandree (viola) & John Myerscough (cello)]
Recorded 9-11 February 2011 in Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, England
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: October 2011
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10692
Duration: 74 minutes
Robert Schumann completed his three published string quartets in a two-month period of typically intense creativity during the summer of 1842. They make a most attractive proposition on a single disc, products of the composer’s lyrical invention at a particularly good period in his life. The Doric String Quartet chooses to portray the work as such, the instinctive flow of each piece easy to grasp and the melodies and counterpoint fresh on the ear.
In the most genial of the three pieces, the F major, the first movement unfolds with comfortable grace and romance. The Theme and Variations second movement, taking its lead from Beethoven’s Opus 127, is colourfully characterised, the Doric finding it as the work’s emotional centre. By contrast, the scherzo is full of nervous energy, Alex Redington’s arpeggios retaining their poise but introducing considerable tension. Nor is this dissipated by the trio, its quickness leaving little room for thought.
The First String Quartet also has its tensions, manifested principally through keys, the composer pitting A minor and F major squarely against one another. The introduction is sombre from the Doric Quartet, vibrato kept to a minimum as if recreating music of an earlier time. The scherzo blows the concerns away temporarily, the thrum of Simon Tandree and John Myerscough’s insistent rhythm driving the music forward. Only at the close of the finale does the tension fully resolve, the dynamic dropping a notch to provide a rarified atmosphere for Schumann’s apparent referral to distant bagpipes, the harmony changing to the major. The Doric musicians portray this moment beautifully, crowning a well-thought interpretation.
Not everyone will care for the pianissimo with which Redington begins the A major Quartet, the join between first and second notes pronounced, but this piece too settles in to a tasteful account, Schumann’s biggest quartet receiving the breadth it needs. The finale effectively unifies the three works, raking up the A-F harmonic tension again, though the main theme – which you’re likely to continue singing long after the piece has finished – is very persuasive from these musicians.
Many fine versions of Schumann’s string quartets exist, but few get to the essence of the music with the natural flair shown by the Doric String Quartet. With ideal recording conditions, this is a disc to savour.