We were truly fortunate to have attended the Fitzroy’s concert on Monday. The original quartet got together in 2015 while at the Royal Academy and last night they performed with their new Second violin Jure Smirnov Ostir.
They began with the impressive Op 76 No 2 in D minor, one of Haydn’s latest quartets which he wrote in 1797 whilst in London. It is a huge piece which shows the pinnacle of quartet writing at the time with much virtuoso playing required, particularly by the 1st violin. It also displays much of Haydn’s propensity for jokes to lighten the comparative intensity of some of the writing. Although the quartet is known as “The Fifths” because of the intervals that form the meat of the first movement, and the second movement as “The Witches Dance” because of the fiendish runs, our (very amateur) quartet know it as “The Donkey” due to the He Haw intervals in the final movement!
The Fitzroy quartet gave us the virtuosity in spades, added a much-appreciated large dynamic range and great sensitivity as the themes and idioms were passed from one player to another. There were clean well-defined parts in the first movement and all was played with great musicality. I loved the energy brought to the third movement particularly, we were as much on the edge of the seats as they were! My only hesitation was in the final movement, where I would have preferred a very slightly slower tempo to enable the fastest notes to be better articulated.
Bartók wrote his 3rd string quartet in 1927 whilst working as a pianist in Budapest. His folklorist compositions can illustrate the Hungarian folk tunes that he had collected, but here we get more of the rhythmical and sonorous influences particularly with the dance-like
elements in the second movement. This piece requires a technical ability - i.e. it’s very difficult - and the sound scape is enhanced with string tricks such as mute playing, pizzicato and playing on the bridge, which was all very effective. There were some lovely bits of voila playing the second movement and the balance throughout was good.
They finished with the Debussy quartet Op 10 written in 1893. It is easy to be surprised that this piece was written before his Prelude à l’Après Midi d’un Faune, an orchestral piece which is often said to have started the era of modern music. Although written in conventional form in 4 movements the music sounds completely new for its time. It has novel textures and ingenious transformations of melody, harmony and rhythm, as well as many of the tonal effects that are familiar from his later pieces. The Fitzroy played the lyrical parts were beautifully, and the final part of the third movement was magical. The very strong rhythm of the second movement was played less fiercely than I have heard – maybe rightly so – it isn’t Shostakovich after all. But I felt that the little triplet in the main theme got swallowed in the fast tempo chosen.
It was a splendid night’s music with wonderful dynamic and expressive playing. I would gladly hear this quartet again.