Delicacy, precision, and raw energy – all these qualities, and more, were on display in a remarkable concert by the Doric String Quartet in Milverton Church on 23 March.
In an unusual piece of programming, Brahms Quartet Op 67 preceded Haydn’s Quartet Op 33 No.5: but as explained by cellist John Myerscough in an enlightening commentary, this highlighted Brahms’ debt to his Classical forebears. The Dorics’ lightness of touch, and a playing style that seemed influenced by historically informed performance practice, gave special poise to this sunny and good-humoured work. The rhythmic intricacy of the first movement, and the use of muted violin and cello in the third movement in order to highlight the sweet-toned viola of Helene Clement, were particularly well conveyed.
Constant variety in the balance and interplay of the four instruments is an intriguing and delightful feature of this ensemble: the violins of Alex Redington and Jonathan Stone, while always nimble, expressive and with perfect intonation, did not seek to dominate, but gave ample scope for the viola and cello to assert themselves. This was evident not least in the Haydn Quartet, where limpid harmonies and gentle melodies were startlingly interrupted by witty chromaticisms and passages of unexpected dramatic intensity.
Beethoven’s Quartet Op 130, with the ‘Grosse Fuge’ or Great Fugue as its sixth and last movement, is often described as the pinnacle of the quartet repertoire, and the Dorics delivered a performance which had not only the players, but also the audience, on the edge of their seats. The first five contrasted movements – in turn dramatic, humorous, playful and deeply poignant – are firmly rooted in the Classical harmonic and emotional tradition.
The Fugue is different, and unique: according to scholars, rhythmically unequalled since the 14th century, harmonically and structurally unequalled until the 20th century, and perhaps not even then. Yet the Dorics made sense of it, with constant eye-contact, meticulous shaping of phrases and sections, pregnant pauses. The controlled violence, rhythmic complexity, and passages of euphonic calm were shown to have an underlying and comprehensible structure. This was a world-class musical experience at which it was a privilege to be present, and Milverton Concert Society are to be thanked and congratulated for making it available in Somerset.
Review by Andrew Carter