Škampa Quartet at Wigmore Hall – Mozart & Smetana

String Quartet in D, K575
String Quartet No.1 in E minor (From my Life)

Škampa Quartet [Helena Jiříkovská & Daniela Součková (violins), Radim Sedmidubský (viola) & Lukáš Polák (cello)]

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 18 November, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Škampa Quartet. Photograph: www.skampaquartet.czThe Škampa Quartet began its BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall with the first of Mozart’s three ‘Prussian’ String Quartets, the set thought to be written to a commission from the cello-playing King Friedrich Wilhelm II. The Škampa musicians were revisiting familiar territory, having performed K575 at a similar gig here last year, but reaffirmed the charm and purity of that interpretation. The players enjoyed Mozart’s light textures, and the falling second theme of the first movement could be compared to slowly descending autumn leaves in Helena Jiříkovská’s skittish rendition. She led with an easy conviction, the grain largely free of bass notes with the cello operating in a higher register. Lukáš Polák was consistently sensitive in this respect, emphasising the singing qualities of the instrument’s melodies. The Minuet was particularly rewarding, its fuller sound nicely complemented by a soft and radiant Trio. Mozart saves the best tune for the finale. There was a more assertive feel here, save for a briefly darker turn taken in the development section.

It is always a pleasure to hear a Czech ensemble in indigenous music, particularly so in the case of the autobiographical Smetana, which received a particularly powerful performance. The Škampa members were not afraid of the occasional expressive liberty, a ploy that secured maximum dramatic effect rather than indulgence. The profundity of Smetana’s emotional outpouring was raw at times, particularly in the slow movement, which was led off by a heartfelt solo from Polák before Jiříkovská drove ahead with searching intensity. The dynamic range was wide indeed, commanding rapt attention. The second movement Polka was wonderfully done, quick and invigorating, the playing thrilling in its discipline but also suggesting imaginary dancers, particularly in the lilt of the middle section. The beginning of the finale was wholeheartedly into dance, but the jarring high ‘E’ string that signals the onset of the composer’s deafness was chilling from Jiříkovská. The music failed to recover, subsiding to an unhappy conclusion and ultimately heartbreaking silence. An encore was a risky move, but the choice was ideal, the finale of a String Quartet from the Škampa’s former leader, Pavel Fischer. It was imbued with the same driving energy as the Smetana.

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