Dante Quartet at Kings Place – Haydn (Bird), Matthew Taylor (No.5) & Beethoven (Opus 127)

String Quartet in C, Op.33/3 (Bird)
Matthew Taylor
String Quartet No.5, Op.35
String Quartet No.12 in E flat, Op.127

Dante Quartet [Krysia Osostowicz & Oscar Perks (violins), Yuko Inoue (viola) & Richard Jenkinson (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 11 January, 2015
Venue: Hall One, Kings Place, London

Dante Quartet. Photograph: Phillip PrattThe London Chamber Music Series at Kings Place resumed after its Christmas break with a recital from the Dante Quartet, an ensemble with vast experience among its members, in which two classics of the repertoire framed a revival of a piece by one of the leading current practitioners of the ‘string quartet’.

Not the least interesting factor concerning the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Quartets by Matthew Taylor (who turned 50 last year) is that these three works were written over a concentrated span – that of the initial two even overlapping – and confirm his handling of the genre as neither predictable in itself nor slavishly beholden to existing models. The Fifth Quartet (2007) adopts a ground-plan in which the underlying tempo decreases over the course of the work as a whole – a taut while tonally wide-ranging Allegro (indebted in some particulars to the similarly unequivocal opening movement of Beethoven’s ‘Serioso’, Opus 95) finding its culmination in a powerfully sustained fugue whose initial vehemence gradually and understatedly winds down towards a winsome ‘Lullaby’ that draws the piece to a serene close far removed from the pressing concerns at its start, though which is the more impressive for having squared the tonal and expressive circle with such poise. A resourceful and satisfying work, not least in this assured account by the ensemble which gave its premiere and also the first recording (Toccata Classics TOCC0144).

Prior to this, the Dante musicians opened proceedings with Haydn’s ‘Bird’ Quartet (1781) – the third of the composer’s Opus 33 String Quartets in which he relaxed the contrapuntal dexterity of his Opus 20 series though losing little of its incisive wit or its buoyant humour. Whether in the insouciant Allegro, the notably subdued Scherzo (its Allegretto marking pointedly observed), mellifluous interplay of its Adagio or the spirited final Presto – first violin paying homage to the Quatuor Brilliant tradition – this is a work of effortless appeal and here received a reading to match.

After the interval came the first of Beethoven’s ‘late’ String Quartets (1825) in a performance which, whatever its passing technical flaws, assuredly had the measure of this most affirmative from the sequence. The Dante players might have brought a shade more emphasis to the Maestoso gesture when it reappears at significant junctures, yet such as the startling tonal swerves in the development were tangibly conveyed, while the variations on the Adagio’s long-breathed theme were ideally differentiated as to expression on the way to its poignantly fragmenting coda. The Scherzo’s quixotic mood-swings seemed a little reined-in – though here and in the finale, Beethoven’s purposeful opening-out of new formal and expressive territory was never in doubt; the latter movement leading to a coda which crystallises the work’s essence with breathtaking clarity.

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