Doric Quartet – Wigmore Hall (12 January)

String Quartet in E flat, Op.64/6
String Quartet No.4, Op.25
String Quartet in A minor, Op.13/2

Doric Quartet
[Alex Redington & Dafydd Williams (violins), Chris Brown (viola) & John Myerscough (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 12 January, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

As a rounding-off of the Park Lane Group’s week devoted to young artists, the Doric Quartet – who made such a strong impression at the series in 2002 – gave a PLG-sponsored recital at the Wigmore Hall. The highlight two years ago was an impressive rendition of Alexander Zemlinsky’s Third Quartet, and it was pleasing to see this followed up tonight with his fourth and last quartet.

Composed early in 1936, as a tribute to the late Alban Berg, the Fourth Quartet makes pointed reference to Berg’s Lyric Suite in its six-movement format – though with a slightly more orthodox arrangement of movements in three ’slow-fast’ pairs. The Doric slightly underplayed the gravity of the opening Präludium, but conveyed the Bartókian acerbity of the ensuing Burleske. Conversely, the ensemble brought out the ’in memoriam’ quality of the Adagietto, while minimising the lighter (though never carefree) mood of its companion Intermezzo. The concentrated follow-through of the Theme and Variations was finely delineated, however, with the Doric keeping enough in reserve for a trenchant dispatch of the Finale’s double fugue – closing the quartet in a mood of grim acceptance.

A work that, like Zemlinsky’s other quartets, has gradually entered the repertoire, it confirms the composer as a natural in a medium then dominated by Bartók and Schoenberg. Hopefully the Doric will move on to the expansive Second Quartet and, should a recorded cycle be contemplated, there is a ’pre-First’ quartet in E minor – published but still awaiting its first outing on disc.

Established six years ago, and with an average age of only 22, the Doric impresses with its fullness of tone and scrupulous attention to dynamics and balance. The performance of the Haydn E flat quartet which opened proceedings captured the music’s relaxed wit and, in the Andante, a keen pathos. Intonation was not always flawless, but a sense of poise and refined eloquence – essential in the composer’s quartets of the 1780s – was always in evidence.

After the interval, the ensemble gave a performance of Mendelssohn’s A minor quartet which was second to none. The teenage composer’s grafting of formal precepts derived from Beethoven’s late quartets onto the customary four movements can seem self-consciously impressive: Mendelssohn, as it were, drawing on the example of his mentor rather than his experience. Yet the intensity with which the Doric approached the Allegro vivace left no doubt as to its identification with the music’s aspirations; similarly, the slow movement’s alternation of repose and agitation (had Mendelssohn come across any of Schubert’s recent chamber works?), and the whimsical contrasts of the Intermezzo. The operatic immediacy of the finale did not undermine the stealthy progression back to the chorale that ends the movement, and frames the quartet as a whole, in serene acceptance.

Impressive quartet-playing judged by any standards, then, and a striking indication of the potential for music-making at the highest level that the Doric Quartet now has within its grasp.

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