A concert by The Quince Quartet,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER
I had high expectations for this concert (21 October 2005 at Murray Park School, Derby, UK), and for a time it looked as though they were going to be fulfilled. The Quince Quartet's unanimity is impressive, with the collective ability to turn corners elegantly. Haydn's Quartet Op 77 No 1 got off to a brisk start and there were some deeply-felt moments of hushed concentration in the slow movement.
It wasn't long, however, before doubts began to creep in, and these were reinforced as the evening proceeded. The leader had an acid tone which simply didn't blend with the other players, and his intonation was often suspect. The quartet had a heavy, serious approach to interpretation which often bordered on the aggressive. The scherzo of the Haydn was made to sound too much like Beethoven, and the scherzo of Beethoven's own Quartet Op 18 No 2, after the interval, was brittle and hard-edged, with rigid phrasing.
Paradoxically, the opening of Mendelssohn's E minor Quartet Op 44 No 2 went to the opposite extreme -- it was subdued to the point where the passion had drained out of the music. The scherzo had precision but little lightness or warmth, and the finale was merely strenuous rather than urgent.
Before the Beethoven, the quartet played the Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tomkins by the young Worcestershire composer Edward Nesbit. Effectively written for the medium, it brings early 17th-century English music (the theme comes from Tomkins's madrigal See, see the shepherd's queen) into uneasy juxtaposition with expressionistic harmonies reminiscent of Reger or early Schoenberg. The piece's attempted resolution of the resulting tension was more ambiguous than the composer's own programme note suggested.