Doric String Quartet at Wigmore Hall – The first three Quartets of Haydn’s Opus 20

The Six String Quartets, Op.20:
No.1 in E-flat
No.2 in C
No.3 in G-minor

Doric String Quartet [Alex Redington & Jonathan Stone (violins), Hélène Clément (viola) & John Myerscough (cello)]

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: 13 September, 2017
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Doric String QuartetPhotograph: www.doricstringquartet.comExpressiveness is the basis of the Doric Quartet’s approach to Haydn. Every phrase is carefully shaped and presented in a most meaningful way. As a result, slow movements often have an almost magical quality. The musicians’ passion for depth of expression has in the past spilled over into eccentricity and some examples of this were to be found in Haydn’s Opus 76 Quartets at this venue.

With Opus 20 however, while occasionally verging on daring subjectivism, the interpretations revealed a deep understanding of Haydn’s muse. There were moments which seemed somewhat personal – such as the delightfully hesitant sequence a little way into Opus 20/1 where Haydn is allowing himself a moment of quirkiness; the Doric members presented this with twice the amount of idiosyncrasy and the basic speed of the movement was sacrificed to achieve the effect. Something similar happened in the Trio of the same work’s Minuet. It was so lovingly shaped, being gently allowed to fall asleep at its close, that it bore little relation to the surrounding Minuet. This was however a mere Doric moment – the other Minuets in the other two works were done elegantly and not over-phrased.

Despite freedoms of expression – and, to some extent, tempo – the contours of these works were well understood. Repeats were carefully and generously chosen, indicating understanding of the outline of the movements. The Adagio of Opus 20/2 was breathtakingly beautiful – of the Classical period but it is really a Romantic fantasia and was rendered with moving intensity. The final fugue was brilliantly detailed – a truly animated discussion between the four instruments, Haydn’s ‘Fuga a 4 soggetti’ the ideal vehicle for these musicians.

Opus 20/3 was firmly driven and wisely shaped – again symmetry of form was attended to and in the widely accepted Eulenberg score there is a double bar in the middle of the Poco adagio which seems not to mean anything. With the Doric members it is important because they use it to make a da capo at that point thereby perfectly matching the form of the first movement. The Finale – probably the most cheerful of them all despite the minor-key of the work – was given a very attractive timbre, naturally silky, and the combination of this and Haydn’s brisk, occasionally spiky music made for a quality of bright elegance.

The Doric Quartet shares it name with the plainest of Ancient Greek columns, but the colourful approach relates more closely to the elaborate Corinthian style: thoughtful intuitiveness added considerable yet entirely appropriate colour to Haydn’s music.

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