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Regrets and remedies, the Wigmore way,


Despite illness setbacks, Classical Music reigns supreme once more as my No 1 priority. When I managed to get to London's Wigmore Hall, via the attendant perils on the Northern 'Misery' Underground line, it was worth every precious moment.

Chamber Music attendances have, at last come full circle. In my EMI days (1955-70) String Quartets by Haydn, Mozart, Wolf and Hindemith were regarded by accountants as the unsaleable fodder intended to cater solely for the decadent BBC Third Programme addict. Now, thanks to the crying need for all young players to subjugate their own personal opinions, listen closely, then explore those of their musical colleagues, we are experiencing a newly restored creative heritage of fine chamber-instrumental performers throughout the world.

The Kirckman Concert Society's latest 'catch' is the Doric Quartet -- following an equally memorable Park Lane Group event from my diary on 4 November 2006. They provided endless evidences for plumbing and discovering inner meanings behind the many musical notes and phrases; their programme: Mozart's (final) 'Prussian' Quartet in F, K590, Walton's rarely performed Quartet in A minor, then the towering Schubert 'Death and the Maiden', a work of many fondest remembrances. The popularity of late Mozart might probably fall short of the celebrated six dedicated to Joseph Haydn, but its supremacy of overall textures -- with terseness and subtlety side by side -- and the work's revealing personality achieved through militaristic quips and sidelong glances by players literally in love with their role play, adds up to the whole.

Alex Redington, Jonathan Stone, Mark Braithwaite, John Myersough -- one at least was talked to by BBC's Sean Rafferty; he was excited by a reunion with other professional comrades prior to the concert. Walton's only String Quartet, I last heard in the Purcell Room when Bronislaw Gimpel led the Yale Quartet -- God knows how many years back. It is one of those eternal pleasures that such carefully selected and well contrasted music can thrill the senses in the same way as Sir William's First Symphony, its immediate contemporary. The sweeping phrasework and off-beat rhythmic accents are, after all, part of the composer's hallmark. This performance quite won my admiration, but isn't it patently obvious that audiences are frightened to applaud music they have never heard before? Not so with Franz Schubert, yet the problem here also concerns the rest of his works. Performers have to discover the exact pace and nuance from the word 'go'. The inner, partly veiled drama is immediately 'felt' from the D minor Quartet's very opening, and has to exactly match the quality of the silences that follow. Thereafter, it is the question of restraining, even halving the musical pulse at specific points before gradually pressing ahead. I started to question my own reactions to the non-vibrato playing from the First Violin then listening carefully to its reappearance in the replies. This is just one other detailed aspect to their playing. The muted tragedy of the slow movement -- which identifies with the work's title -- held me spellbound until those marvellous sonorous, plaintive moments for solo cello ... also the linking element -- with delicacy of touch and exactness foremost in the third. Then the Finale, with preciseness in tempo throughout -- until the ending, which accomodates the frost-cold, rubato stoppings that permeates every fleeting phrase. On CD, the Takacs Quartet amazingly fail to bring any of these pointers into correct perspective. I would place the Dorics, instead, in line with the much older Busch and Vienna Konzerthaus Quartets. Schubert's style has to identify in most instances with the Vienna Woods, folk music and dances of his homeland. Listen to other performances, and you either reject or wish to applaud vociferously, as here.

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Copyright © 1 March 2007 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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