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Haydn, Mendelssohn, Berg: Doric String Quartet. Wigmore Hall, Thursday, 24.2.2011 (CC)

Haydn: String Quartet in A, Op. 20/6

Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E flat, Op. 44/3

Berg: Lyric Suite

This was a lovely evening of music lovingly performed by the young Doric Quartet. The Doric has already made some recordings that have garnered critical praise: Haydn Quartets on the Wigmore Hall's own label, plus Korngold on Chandos ( reviewed by Rob Barnett on this site last year). The youthful zest of their performances on this particular evening was a joy.

The Haydn Quartet (1772) began with a scherzo-like movement performed at great speed but with lots of delicious detail. Particularly memorable was the Doric's use of pianissimo to generate an atmosphere of hushed expectancy. There was a somewhat rough sound at higher dynamic levels that I kept on kindly thinking was "authentic" but to this day I remain unsure as to whether that was the intent. The Adagio's simple accompaniment figures seemed all the more effective here, set against a lovely cantabile for the main line (the first violin part, played by Alex Redington, is almost concertante in nature and was delivered with confidence). The lovely, muted Trio of the third movement was another highlight, while the finale, replete with fugal writing, was rightfully exuberant.

Mendelssohn's string quartets still don't get the recognition they surely deserve. The E flat, Op. 44/3 of 1838 once more had a raw sound, giving a surprisingly savage edge to the fortes. There is a fairly relentless energy to the first movement that the Doric Quartet kept up to good effect, and again, textural clarity was of upheld throughout. The scampering Scherzo was filled with delightful staccato articulation, while the Adagio no troppo was marked by an air of grieving . This was the most glorious movement of them all in the present performance, despite the nimbly articulated finale.

Berg's wonderful but dauntingly difficult Lyric Suite (1925-6), a score that is replete with musical cryptograms, was a challenge the Doric rose to magnificently. They showed a great awareness of the importance of gesture in this music (the sighs of the first movement, for example) along with wonderful delineation of thematic strands. Delicacy was present in the Andante amoroso, while in the Allegro misterioso it was the technical achievements that impressed, with col legno scamperings and capricious pizzicati. Most memorable, though, were the skeletal, dismembered sounds of the Adagio appassionato (although here the climax could have been more vehement) and the spectral sounds of the otherworldly Presto delirando. The final Largo desolato was magnificently barren. A superb performance of a most demanding piece.

Colin Clarke


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