The people at Howard Assembly Room have done it again. They have presented a concert which could not be more appropriate but this time more by accident than design.
Previous events have been staged so as to be relevant to the time; the American Composers was on Thanksgiving eve, whilst the programme of Jewish composers written in concentration camps, was on Holocaust Day. This concert, which consisted of music by Glinka, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich was scheduled to be performed some time ago but had to be postponed because of COVID, taking place on 2nd March, 2022. The relevance of this is sadly obvious, as all of them are Russian. There is no way we can attribute any of the events taking place in Ukraine to these long-deceased gentleman but it did add certain extra dimension to the evening.
The Dudok Quartet Amsterdam comprises; Judith van Driel – violin, Marleen Wester – violin, Marie-Louise de Jong – viola and David Faber – cello. They formed in 2009 and released their first recording, Métamorphoses, in 2015 which was an interpretation of works by Ligeti, Haydn and Brahms. Their ethos is ‘sharing the heart of music’ which is done in several ways.
The beauty of an intimate venue like Howard Assembly Room is that the artists can give a chat about the work of both themselves and the music without it sounding like a lecture, and Judith van Driel did just this before the performance began. She took us through the pieces letting us know what to expect from each work and how they varied in execution.
The first piece was Overture from the opera Russian & Ludmilla by Glinka, which had been arranged for string quartet by the performers themselves. This piece was a great way to begin the concert as it was familiar, uplifting and very accessible.
The second piece, String Quartet No.3 in E flat minor, Op30, by Tchaikovsky was a work in four movements which varied between dark and moody, and a tad more lively. This was definitely harder work for the casual listener but stimulating all the same.
The whole of the period after the interval was devoted to String Quartet No.5 in B flat major, Op 92 by Shostakovich, but not before we were treated to a talk by David Faber to give us an interesting insight into the piece. This time he illustrated his points – if you can illustrate by the use of sound – with the assistance of Marie-Louise de Jong who played short passages on the viola. He said that the composer had spelled out his name in the construction of the work but, being the classical musical outsider, most of this passed about a yard and a half over my head.
It is testament to the popularity of the Dudok Quartet Amsterdam that Mr Faber tripped over a few of his English words during the introduction, explaining that they have been working a lot since lockdown and last night they were in Belgium so he was still thinking in French.
The Shostakovich piece was in three movements and seemed to follow the mood pattern of the Tchaikovsky which again made it what we used to call ‘mood music’ in my day. I am sure that had I been a little (OK a lot) more au fait with the mechanics of composition I would have appreciated it more, but even on my level of expertise I found it interesting.
The point about composition was reinforced by Ms van Driel who, in her introduction to the encore, described as a short waltz, she told us that it was originally written for piano but they like to arrange music not specifically designed for strings in order that they can better understand the thinking of the composer.
I must say that the musicianship was superb as was the performance itself, with the performers obviously immersed in the pieces but not too flamboyant. I will certainly search the music platforms to sample their new recording of Brahms.
Finally a word about the lighting technician, who, along with the sound engineer, sadly doesn’t get a mention in the downloadable programme. As my mind was taking in the music during the first half of the concert, my eyes were drawn to the spotlights above the stage which, although casting a cool blue hue on the performers, were a mixture of cyan – mid blue – and yellow, the colours of the flag of Ukraine. During the interval, and at the end, both sets were cranked up and the back of the stage lit in tribute. A lovely touch.
To see what else is coming to Howard Assembly Room please go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/howard-assembly-room/
For more information about Dudok String Quartet Amsterdam click on https://dudokquartet.com/
Feature image from Opera North, photographs by Stan Graham