String Quartet in F, K590 (Prussian)
String Quartet in A minor
String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Death and the Maiden)
Doric Quartet [Alex Redington & Jonathan Stone (violins), Mark Braithwaite (viola) & John Myerscough (cello)]
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 4 November, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The Doric Quartet was formed eight years ago, has undergone changes of personnel, and studies continue at the Paris-based European Centre for Chamber Music. Currently, the Doric musicians occupy a seven-year residency at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford-on-Avon.
This Wigmore Hall concert was outstanding. It was also thrilling. These young players showed qualities, training and resolution that enabled them to perform music unforgettably – and to evidence the excellence of their teachers.
The keynote of Doric’s performing style is energy. From the instant the players’ electricity smashed the preceding silence, every movement sparked and crackled with an impassioned intelligence giving insights into the characteristic musical style of each composer. In each work, the quartet’s energy changed character – as did, too, the musicians’ phrasing, inter-relating of phrases and the shape given to movements – precisely, dynamically and manifestly.
Apart from the statutory brusque, stark opening, the Mozart was lithe, virile and steely. A vigorous style and elegance matched the restless, carefree, almost off-hand mood of the piece. This is partly due to having no slow movement proper. Instead, Mozart wrote an Allegretto in 6/8 time. The work began “solemn yet warm” (as the Doric Quartet’s straightforward, user-friendly programme notes declared). Then it moved about lightly, neatly introducing inconspicuous decoration and experiment. Later movements experimented further – with fifths, some lurching key changes, and moments of fleeting harshness that still caught the light. One particularly brusque change in the finale anticipated Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’.
William Walton’s String Quartet – the later of his two – was mellow and magical. Its silvery, mercurial energy is elusive to capture – especially as successfully as the Doric Quartet did here. In the first movement, the musicians must be keenly alert to establishing a unity of mood from a host of small phrases that sound wispy and fragmentary. The music is edgy and reflective at the same time, not unlike the magical opening to Walton’s (later) Cello Concerto: jewelled light sparkled like some first energy in a newly-created universe; the Doric Quartet caught this subtlety precisely. Then a thrusting scampering scherzo swept us along without pausing for breath until superseded by a slower movement that moved rather more sedately, with elegiac melancholy still – deep, silken and dark. The viola was ravishing here. Then the last movement hurtled home.
‘Death and the Maiden’ had a savage, harsh energy all its own. Young as the players are, the Doric Quartet thrust us with grating immediacy into Schubert’s monolithic agony, violence and anguished cries. Let us remember that this is the music of a man of only 27, yet knowingly dying. We might be tempted to say that musicians of the same age are too young to perform ‘Death and the Maiden’ perceptively: the music (and the experience underlying it) is too ‘mature’. The Doric Quartet, however, captured the full youthful vitality of Schubert’s agony – and the springy lightness of his lyricism. By contrast, many quartets comprising more seasoned players are rather staid in the vigour, akin to middle-aged men resolute to prove that they can still take exercise.
The energy and versatility of this concert was spectacular. These players had a vibrant freshness, a precious gift.