String Quartet in D, K575
String Quartet in A minor, D804 (Rosamunde)
Škampa Quartet [Helena Jiříkovská & Daniela Součková (violins), Radim Sedmidubský (viola) & Petr Šporcl (cello)]
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 10 September, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
A new season of BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts began at Wigmore Hall with a traditional but nicely paired programme of string quartets by Mozart and Schubert from the Škampa Quartet.
Their musicians’ performance of the first of Mozart’s so-called ‘Prussian’ string quartets was ideal in every way. Thought to be written to commission from King Friedrich Wilhelm II, these works elevate the cello from its role of supporting harmony and texture to providing melody in its higher register, a task that Petr Šporcl rose to with some distinction. In the Trio of an otherwise charming Minuet his floated melody was initially elusive, in perfect keeping with Mozart’s less than conventional rhythms. Elsewhere the singing tone of Helena Jiříkovská frequently drew the ear, bringing out the cantabile nature of Mozart’s writing. There was a carefree nature to much of the music, despite its origins in a period of financial adversity for the composer, and the give and take between Jiříkovská and Radim Sedmidubský’s viola with the first movement theme was a particular source of enjoyment.
The clouds gathered for Schubert’s masterful but shady A minor String Quartet, and the importance of Daniela Součková’s beautifully shaped violin figurations was abundantly clear from the outset of the outer movements especially. Through listening to each other’s contributions closely and making frequent eye contact the quartet-members secured an ideal balance, so that even the smallest of Schubert’s details could be clearly heard. This helped in capturing the insecurity of the Minuet, Šporcl leading off confidently, the others interpreting Schubert’s emotion with uncertain responses. This mood of anxiety carried through from the middle section of the first movement, and even the calmer, relatively contented ‘Rosamunde’ music of the Andante – taken quite quickly here – had its uncertainties in the feathery responses to the main theme. As in the first movement Jiříkovská assumed a role equivalent to that of a singer, with the others her accompanists – but the balance was never compromised.
These two performances were consistently high in technical quality and intonation, with a purity of sound that caught both the light of the Mozart and the shade of the Schubert beautifully. In essence, this was chamber music-making at its very best.