Carducci Quartet

String Quartet in D, Op.20/4
David Matthews
String Quartet No.10, Op.84
Yiddishbbuk (Inscriptions for String Quartet)
String Quartet in E minor, Op.59/2 (Razumovsky)

Carducci Quartet [Matthew Denton & Michelle Fleming (violins), Eoin Schmidt-Martin (viola) & Emma Denton (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 18 December, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The final event to be hosted this year by the Park Lane Group brought the excellent Carducci Quartet to the Wigmore Hall for a neatly balanced recital in which two significant contemporary scores were framed by two complementary Viennese classics.

Hard to believe it is now almost six years ago since the Tenth Quartet (2000) by David Matthews received its premiere here. This short but unerringly-proportioned work – its preludial first movement drawing on birdsong from New South Wales which its lengthier successor expands into an increasingly expressive dance, before a return to the initial calm – is typical of this composer in its unassuming depth, and was given a highly perceptive performance.

Immediate contrast followed with the high drama of Osvaldo Golijov’s Yiddishbbuk (1992). Those who remain unconvinced by the often forced and unoriginal ‘crossover’ of more recent works from this composer pieces could not doubt his seriousness of intent here. Drawing on apocryphal (and now all but destroyed) psalm texts, as tantalisingly described by Kafka, its three movements respectively commemorate three children who were interned at the Terezin transit camp, the writer Isaac Singer and finally Leonard Bernstein. Music whose evident pungency and desolation evokes an unlikely but compelling fusion of Janáček and Schnittke, it demands the unanimity of attack and expressive focus it received from the Carducci – the musicians sheer responsiveness and commitment was never in doubt.

Formed near the beginning of this decade, the Carducci Quartet evinces a combination of technical security and emotional spontaneity essential in quartet-playing. The members did considerable justice to the fourth of Haydn’s Opus 20 sequence – notable for the probing set of variations comprising the slow movement, and a Minuet whose Hungarian-inflected vitality makes of it a scherzo in all but name. Familiar fare in the quartet repertoire these days, Haydn’s generous output tends rather to be taken for granted by many ensembles – making this well-prepared and impulsive account a pleasure to encounter.

Almost as fine was Beethoven’s ‘Second Razumovsky’ quartet. The Carducci had the measure of the Allegro’s restive energy (one instance where the second-half repeat is worth taking for the benefit of the work’s formal balance), and brought no mean intensity to the Adagio’s introspection, even if dynamics could have been more inward. The scherzo’s halting agitationwas well caught, as was the trio’s robust ‘Russian-ness’, while the finale – perhaps a barbed homage to the exhibitionism of the ‘Quatuor brillant’ tradition – sped lithely on its way to a propulsive ending.

A fine showing, then, for this gifted ensemble – as at home in standard as in modern repertoire. The musicians returned for an unexpected encore: the ‘Waltz’ from Britten’s Three Divertimenti – a work that met with stony silence at its 1936 Wigmore Hall premiere, and accorded a rather warmer reception on this occasion.

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