All good things come to an end. The return of the Doric Quartet to Leicester after an absence of some years was the last concert of the 2016/17 Lunchtime series. It proved to be a fitting finish to what has been a very high number of outstanding concerts. Indeed, I cannot remember a better season at the Museum.
In truth , though, before a note had been played there were obstacles to surmount and I found myself in a somewhat grumpy frame of mind. Not I think for the first time in the season a gremlin had been present at the printing of the programme. I am of course not referring to changes to the programme after the printing which, of course, happen. Also, I am only too aware how with advancing years proof reading becomes ever more of a fraught occupation. However, I really do think that LIMF might improve their act in this respect.
In this context I wondered whether there had also been an omission in the programme’s biography of the quartet which began with the rather startling comment that it is the ‘leading British string quartet of its generation.’ I wondered whether the phrase ‘one of the …’ had been left out by mistake. If it was as intended, it did seem to me a rather bold assertion, given the number of fine young or youngish British quartets that have appeared in Leicester in recent years, as well as being a claim rather likely to make one listen super critically.
Well, suffice it say that such a silly frame of mind on my part was soon blown away when the quartet started playing. In Mozart’s String Quartet K589, one of the three last quartets that he wrote, it soon became clear that one was listening to an utterly distinctive group. Many quartets seek warm homogeneity of sound which in its own way can be very impressive. However, the Doric reminded me of the approach of the Lindsays who in their heyday were frequent visitors to the city. Here there was an insistence of the separateness of the individual instruments, with sharp accents where required, resulting in the character of the music emerging with great clarity. There was also a very wide dynamic range at times which revealed this Mozart quartet , particularly in the Minuet, a movement which can sound very longwinded, as having a drama that fully justified the programme note’s declaration that this was Mozart looking forward to Beethoven.
All of this is not to say that beauty and eloquence was sacrificed on the altar of drama. Time and again and particularly in the slow movement, because of the clarity of the sound, one was super aware of how all four players could mould a phrase and, so crucial in Mozart, lift it to make it sing. So, by the time we reached Britten’s 3rd String Quartet the Doric had me in their grip.
And what a performance this was! With regard to this work I have to recognise that I can hardly write with any objectivity at all. To this day fifty years later I recall very clearly the impact that the composer’s passing had upon me. A great artist’s death when there might have been so much more to come is felt to be particularly cruel. From first hearing Peter Grimes in my youth I had looked forward with enormous anticipation to each new Britten work. And now there was to be nothing more. I think it was Hans Keller who remarked that it was like being alive with a Mozart and in the years after the composer’s death his reputation, with that of Shostakovich who died just before him as being together the two greatest composers of the mid 20c., seems to have been amply confirmed worldwide. However, what made it especially hard came home to me when I heard over the radio one of the first performances of this particular work, which at once felt like having the overwhelming qualities of a farewell and yet also still showing the capacity for the creation of amazing and unique sound worlds. In that respect it reminded me of feelings that Schubert’s last masterpieces, also written under sentence of death, create. How unbearably poignant are they and yet they are also a remarkable testament to the courage of the great artist in wishing to create great things right up to the end.
Hence, if there can be that much objectivity in responding to music, and as time goes by my doubts about that possibility multiply, I have to declare there is no such thing for me in regard this work. All I can say is that the Doric seemed to me to explore every possibility offered for amazing virtuosity in both of the opening two movements and to communicate the savage ironic edge of the Burlesque which surely is a tribute to Britten’s friend Shostakovich. Equally, though, the quartet was overwhelming in the creation of the out of body world of the third movement Solo , here the first violin was simply superb, and in the final Passacaglia they played this farewell with heartfelt simplicity and poise, bringing off to perfection its quizzical ending. Its sense of being almost a question, so typical of Britten’s constancy in refusing to sink into the maudlin or sentimental, was felt indeed to be one last confirmation of his unique voice.
A prolonged silence followed, as if none of the capacity audience wished to return to the everyday world. When they did so at last, there was a hugely deserved ovation for the quartet and the Series had ended on the highest note possible.
Events in April
The Lunchtime Series may have ended but music in the city has not. Don’t miss the visit of English Touring Opera to Curve. They bring G and S’s Patience on April 12th and Puccini’s Tosca on April 13th. In their previous visits this company has shown how these days what amazing standards can be reached on tour. There are so many fine young singers around nowadays. Indeed two years ago I thought a production of The Magic Flute amongst the best I had ever seen and I have rarely if ever come away unsatisfied.
The last concert of this year’s Residency of the Philharmonia occurs on April 22nd in a programme of Smetana, Elgar and Holst. It is conducted by Santu-Mattias Rouvali, yet another Finn of great talent, and the fine cellist Albert Gerhardt plays the Elgar concerto. I am told there are not many tickets left so if you are interested ,hurry ,hurry.
Lastly, in May and June LIMF are putting on as usual two events, one a piano recital and one a quartet concert. I will return to these later. Tickets will soon be on sale and details can be found on the website or on flyers at the Museum.