Béla Bartok String Quartet No 4 (1928)
This, together with the music of the 3rd Quartet, includes some of the most uncompromising music Bartok wrote, but despite the level of dissonance and sometimes harshness of textures, is full of his energy, intensity of expression and ultimately is gloriously life-affirming.
After a slightly tentative start, the first movement, marked Allegro, really took off and had a wonderful sense of forward drive and rhythmic energy. The coda was very exciting and the final statement of the principal thematic idea provided, as it does at the close of the whole work, a tremendous cadence.
The second movement, Prestissimo con sordino ( Very fast with mutes) included some really quiet playing, was haunting and a delightful touch of humour was brought out in the many uses of glissando.
The central slow movement opened with a wonderful sense of mystery, and the cello entry was played with real eloquence, followed by playing of great intensity from all the musicians. The high thematic idea on the first violin was extraordinarily poignant, and created one of the saddest moments in the movement. The close was so hushed and the atmosphere so rapt, you could have heard a pin drop in the Corn Exchange.
In the Allegretto pizzicato there was a tremendous sense of dialogue between the players, strong contrasts of dynamic and the use of the Bartok pizz. was really exhilarating. The close of the movement, marked tranquillo, was delicately and beautifully played.
The final Allegro molto had a really strong opening and the driving rhythms, together with all the accented off-beats proved very exciting. The two central quiet sections were enigmatic and contrasting. The build up to the ending was very powerful.
The Doric Quartet looked genuinely pleased by the enthusiasm of the audience’s response.
Claude Debussy String Quartet in G minor
What really struck me about the opening of this was how rhythmically defined the playing was. Often this opening is played rather suavely, even though Debussy marks it Animé et très décidé, so it was very refreshing to hear it played with such clarity. It was if the rhythmic world and potency of the Bartok we had just heard rubbed off onto the Debussy. The whole first movement was played with real passion and energy as well as capturing the flow of the melodic lines. The coda to the movement with its gradually increasing tempo was very exciting.
The second movement Assez vif et bien rytmé was played with strong rhythms with clear contrasts between the precise pizz. and the flowing arco lines of the melody. The end was delicate and quiet.
The Andantino, marked doucement expressif, with its muted sounds was subtly played and very poignant. A moment I have always loved and which was brought off beautifully here, is when the viola has its gentle solo theme punctuated by serene widely spaced chords on all the strings. In the central section, without mutes, the quartet played with a lovely warm tone, and in the closing bars, with mutes on again, the playing was gentle and very touching.
The passage marked Très modéré which provides a natural transition between the Andantino and the predominantly fast tempo of the last movement had the right feeling of calm, with echoes of the serene chords from the previous movement. The cello’s slightly edgy rhythm, which introduces the new faster tempo marked Très mouvementé et avec passion was well articulated and the more lyrical motifs were both strongly and tenderly played. The climactic fortissimo statement of the opening of the whole quartet was delivered here with tremendous conviction, and the closing bars, with that wonderful rushing upward scale on the first violin, were joyful and affirmative.
What was so striking about both these performances, apart from the technical brilliance, wonderful intonation, great beauty of tone and a wide range of dynamics, was the absolute sense of conviction from these players. There was no sense of going through the motions, but a feeling that every note counted, so that the performances felt alive, fresh and very immediate.