Two quartets written 80 years apart.
Sunday mornings at the Wigmore Hall have an atmosphere all of their own as the concert is always followed by a cup of coffee or glass of sherry. There is something about the succinct nature of the performances that frequently make them feel like an hour of perfection, and these events become even more delightful when the programming positively aids that sense. In this instance, the Dudok Quartet Amsterdam presented two string quartets by Russian composers, thus providing both a strong theme for the concert and sufficient variation as the pieces were written 80 years apart in the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth century respectively.
The Dudok Quartet Amsterdam is an immensely accomplished ensemble, and it proved particularly suited to bringing out all of the textures and nuances that are to be found in the two pieces. The tone was beauteous, and the balance that was consistently achieved across the players quite remarkable, with the consequence that all of the music’s details were captured as the output felt as intriguing as it did mesmerising. The sound felt sufficiently driven when required, but because it did not go beyond the limits of the overall style that the quartet set, it never felt forced.
“There is something about the succinct nature of the performances that frequently make them feel like an hour of perfection…”
The concert began with Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11 of 1871. From the start of the Moderato e semplice the playing was characterised by a beautiful evenness of tone that highlighted the sense of mystery in the opening, yet also allowed the flourishes of sound to be brought out to the full. The opening to the Andante cantabile was possibly the one moment when the quartet’s general approach risked making the sound feel just a little too timid, but the ensemble soon hit stride as the interactions between the long bowed lines and the pizzicato and bowed accompaniments were exquisite. In direct contrast, the opening to the third movement was perfectly pitched because the sense of attack was certainly there without in any way feeling overdone. The ending to the fourth was also captured well as the players conveyed the feeling that the music’s potential to hurtle out of control was only just exceeded by their own ability to control it.
Shostakovich’s three movement String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 92 of 1952 grows from the five note motif C–D–E♭–B–C♯, which contains the four pitch classes of the composer’s musical monogram DSCH (with E♭ being Es and B being H in German). The opening Allegro non troppo possessed the right sense of urgency, and throughout the rhythms were laid out immaculately so that the solo lines felt special, not only since they were so beautifully rendered, but also because everything that surrounded them was entirely in place. This was a performance that positively captured the undulating nature of the piece by being so very attuned to its sense of ebb and flow. The encore was an excellent performance of Shostakovich’s Prelude No. 17 in A flat major, Op. 87, arranged especially for the quartet. This saw first violin Judith van Driel play the main line while the other three members supported her almost entirely through pizzicato.
• The Dudok Quartet Amsterdam’s new album Reflections is to be released on 25 November 2022 and can be preordered now.
• For details of all upcoming Sunday morning concerts at the venue visit the Wigmore Hall website.