Allegri Quartet at Kings Place – Haydn, Thomas Hyde & Tchaikovsky

String Quartet in C, Op.54/2
Thomas Hyde
String Quartet [world premiere]
String Quartet No.3 in E flat minor, Op.30

Allegri Quartet [Ofer Falk & Rafael Todes (violins), Dorothea Vogel (viola) & Katherine Jenkinson (cello)]

Reviewed by: Bob Briggs

Reviewed: 28 February, 2010
Venue: Hall One, Kings Place, London

It’s hard to believe that the Allegri Quartet has been in existence for 57 years – longer than me! It’s the group I grew up with, listening to its many broadcasts and learning much of the string quartet repertoire. One of my reasons for following the Allegri Quartet was its commitment to new and recent music and, now, with a fine line-up of excellent young players, this tradition was continued here.

The Haydn got off to a slightly shaky start but by the time the first movement exposition was repeated – a very sensible move for who wouldn’t want to hear this magnificent music a second time? – all was well, the Allegri members revelled in the many jests and japes of the music, giving the opening movement a sprightly gait and treating the Minuet not as a piece for dancing but as a scherzo, a really humorous piece and loving the fun it created. The unexpected is carried forwards into the finale which ends, surprisingly, slowly and quite beautifully. With sensible tempos and displaying a fine ear for balance this performance was all one could want from a performance of this great work.

To balance it, the Allegri gave the last of Tchaikovsky’s three string quartets. Although written as a memorial to the Czech violinist Ferdinand Laub this is more of a celebration than a requiem with only the third, slow, movement, approaching any mind of commemoration. For the rest, although high spirits weren’t the order of the day, there is much outgoing music, Tchaikovsky showing a firmer grip on form than is usual in his larger works. The players hit exactly the right tone throughout, understanding that this work praises the violinist and his work, but allowing for the deep feeling of the funereal Adagio to come through and tug at the heart yet always mindful of the tempo marking to keep the music con moto.

Between these pieces came the première – the String Quartet by Thomas Hyde. Although only just in his thirties Hyde has an impressive list of works to his credit, including a one-act opera and a CD devoted entirely to his music will be released later this year. In two movements Hyde’s String Quartet, according to the composer, “… requires no literary or programmatic explanations to make sense…” He then sets out a programme for the music! Hyde was correct in the first statement, the music didn’t need a programmatic explanation and what I read didn’t seem to correspond to what I heard. This is a problem for a composer for whilst he may write a piece with the words “He boiled the kettle and made himself some tea” (this quote comes from Philip Larkin’s novel “Jill”, as are all others used by Hyde) he simply cannot, adequately, convey this to an audience, so why bother to tell us?

Having said that, I might mention that in his composition Earl Grey Disappears!, Giles Easterbrook gets round the problem by instructing the solo flautist to make a cup of tea and drink it. My real problem with Hyde’s String Quartet is simple, by the time I got home and sat down to review this concert, about two and a half later, I had no recollection of the music whatsoever – save the opening which was supposed to be an “extended storm scene”, but long-held notes with an occasional, short, rush of notes for one instrument does not a storm make, the eye of a storm perhaps but not a storm proper – and that, in itself, is a criticism. The Allegri Quartet played well but the audience was restless and, I felt, for good reason, for here was a work which clearly failed to engage with the listeners.

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