MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.

Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny

  • Deputy Editor - Bob Briggs

Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb



Haydn, Dvořák, P. Fischer:
Škampa String Quartet. Wigmore Hall, 11:30 am, Sunday 12th July 2009 (CC)

The Škampa Quartet, rightly, enjoys a formidable reputation. Way back in 2003, I heard them here at the Wigmore and applauded their spirit and their commitment to the music of their homeland; I have been enthusiastic about their recordings, too, most notably a coupling of Dvořák and Brahms on Supraphon. Once more, Czech music featured as the mainstay of the programme; Haydn provided the way in.

The Škampa Quartet plays standing up, with violist (Radim Sedmidubský) on the extreme right, enabling him easily to blend in with the ensemble, or to shift his position slightly and project his line straight at the audience. There have been quite a few changes of personnel: violinists Helena Jiříkovská and Daniela Součková joined in June 2008, cellist Lukáš Polák in 2004. Sedmidubský in contrast has been a member of the quartet for over twenty years.

First up was Haydn’s Quartet in B flat, Op. 55/3 (Hob. III:62). The unison opening revealed the quartet’s big sound – unfortunately there was to be some blurring later, in fortes – at least as heard at the back of the hall. The choice of actual quartet was excellent. This is a characterful piece, although I suspect more people know its neighbour better, Op. 55/2, as that one has a nickname (“Razor”). The exposition repeat was honoured, and there was a distinctly darkened feel to the development. Perhaps the theme of the Adagio ma non troppo could have been more gallant in nature, but this movement went on to reveal a sequence of beautiful moments. These included when the second violinist, Daniela Součková, took the main melodic line and the first violinist, Helena Jiříkovská, magically spun a decoration around it. A warm sotto voce added the final touch before a distinctly more robust Menuetto changed the mood abruptly. The difficult finale - difficult in both terms of execution of the scales at speed and in terms of accuracy of ensemble - was a virtuoso display of ebullience.

Eight of the Cypresses by Dvořák followed. The selection began with the last, “You ask me why my songs are racing”, an impassioned number in D minor whose intensity was significantly heightened because of its proximity to the Haydn. The logic of the positioning of the violist on the outside was fully justified in the several movements that feature this instrument in a solo capacity, notably No. 1 (D flat), “I know that on my love to thee” and the beautifully projected No. 5, “The old letter in my book”. Interestingly, the Škampa revelled in highlighting moments of proto-Janáček and seemed particularly at home in the work’s angst - as in the impassioned No. 2, “Death reigns in many a human breast”. The decision to end with the carefree, jolly No. 11, “Nature lies peaceful in slumber and dreaming”, which is more animated than the title might seem to imply, was a fine one. Dvořák was of course at home in the smaller forms and this collection of vignettes shows him at his best, the invention at all times free-flowing and natural.

Finally, a piece by Pavel Fischer (born 1965) - he used to lead this quartet. His Morava is a sequence of five movements written in folk-music style, influenced by, in particular, local fiddle bands. If the first movement was considerably more modernist than that description (paraphrased from Sedmidubský’s introduction), the melodic shapes remained recognisably Czech-derived. The first dance sounded rather post-Bartók before a solo viola with drone effect opened the second movement. A quasi-improvised spirit ran through this piece, culminating in a frenzied finale. All good fun, including clapping and the occasional use of percussion instruments played by members of the quartet. Tremendous stuff. The Škampa Quartet, an ex-quartet in residence at the Wigmore, is always welcome.

Colin Clarke

Back to Top                                                    Cumulative Index Page