DORIC STRING QUARTET
SATURDAY 8th FEBRUARY 2014
MUSIC ON THE EDGE
At the beginning of a Scottish tour, Saturday evening found the Doric Quartet in Nairn Community Centre and in top musical form as they tackled a challenging programme of music by Haydn, Janacek and Beethoven. The First Quartet by Czech composer Leos Janacek takes the listener on a spine-chilling journey through the breakdown of a relationship and a concluding crime passionel, where the cuckolded husband murders his wife. From the dramatic 'curtain up' of the opening phrases, it is clear that that this work is a miniature drama, more than a little reminiscent of the composer's great operas but focussed into fifteen manic minutes. Passages of passionate melody are undercut by shivering sul ponticello interjections, and Janacek's fingerprint obsessive ostinati further animate this disturbing theatre of cruelty. The Doric Quartet approached the work with a sense of focussed energy, creating an atmosphere of almost unbearably gripping intensity, and bringing this spikey, unconventional and overwhelming work to vivid life - truly a case of music on the edge.
There were those among Beethoven's contemporaries who believed that in old age the composer had crossed the thin line into insanity, citing the wild illogic and strange otherworldliness of his late compositions. Their main source of evidence were the late string quartets, works which have continued to divide opinion right up to our own times. In the opus 127 Eb major Quartet we have several examples of the type pf writing which so unsettled audiences in the early 19th century. Structures which we would nowadays charitably refer to as episodic must have seemed hopelessly incoherent, while occasional elysian perspectives (in themselves disturbingly 'other') are inexplicably cut off in their prime by rather clumsily vulgar tunes. Most bizarre of all must have been the strangely directionless and oddly minimalist passages where individual instruments seem to head off exploring alien parallel worlds. Even nowadays opinion divides between those who hear remarkable visions of the future and those who in the same music find only the rantings of a frustrated, deaf and ailing old man. Performers approaching this music must of course be in the former camp, and must find a reasonable route through some pretty challenging foothills to achieve the summits. The Doric Quartet unerringly took the long view, taking us on a thoroughly convincing ascent of this musical Everest.
If there were to be a composer who epitomised the rational in music it would have to be Joseph Haydn. His effortless mastery in the string quartet genre owes much to the happy coincidence of classical form and style at the end of the 18th century. This observation however belies the fact that this classical perfection was arrived at partly through Haydn's own inventive work in establishing the classical string quartet, and that perfection was only arrived at through the composition of large numbers of quartets. His opus 76 no 4 finds him in full creative sail in the middle of one of his most flawless sets of quartets. And yet, typical of this quirky master, he finds room in the creative process for truly original masterstrokes. Haydn could hardly be viewed as inhabiting the edge – even his representation of chaos in The Creation is relatively orderly – and yet passages such as the haunting hurdy-gurdy opening of the third movement's trio or the serene 'sunrise' at the very opening are deeply unconventional. The Doric Quartet gave this piece a technically brilliant reading, but at the same time found time to bring out the full character of this constantly engaging music.
D James Ross