Here I am again at the wonderful Howard Assembly Room. I am not complaining, you understand, quite the opposite, the place has expanded my musical knowledge beyond all expectations. This evening we left the world of experimentation behind for a concert of works by Beethoven, Haydn and an encore from Elgar.
The Doric String Quartet is one of the foremost exponents of this genre in the world and have been awarded several prizes, notably garnering first place in 2008 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition. Their repertoire covers a wide range of periods and styles, but this evening we were treated to two works by Beethoven; Quartet in F minor Op.95 and Quartet in G Op.18/2; and one by his teacher, Haydn, Quartet in E flat Op.50/5.
The Haydn was played between the Beethoven pieces to show how the first one, although his maiden quartet, was still full of confidence. Leaving one of his later works until last illustrated how he developed and how much he was influenced by his mentor. Come on, you know me better than to think that I dragged that from the primordial soup which is my knowledge base, it was the crux of the introduction to the concert by cellist, and founder member of the group, John Myerscough. The other three instrumentalists are; Alex Redington, violin and another founder member; Hélène Clément, who joined in 2013, viola; and Ying Xue, violin, who has been with them since 2018.
Trying to describe music is difficult at the best of times, but when the compositions are as painstakingly structured as these, and being previously unknown to me, it is well nigh impossible. All I can do is give you my impression of the performance, having nothing to compare it with at all.
There were two initial impressions I gleaned; the first, which has nothing to do with the music at all, is that if Ben Miller ever relinquishes the part of Professor T, then John Myerscough is an absolute shoe-in; and second, the players were so involved in their performances they were living every minim, crotchet and quaver.
To begin with I thought that a lot of the facial and body expressions were being done for effect, but, as the performance went on, it was obvious that the music had taken them over. At a few points I became worried that Ms Clément was going to come a cropper as she intermittently half rose to her feet whilst in full flow. Her legs must be amazingly strong as this action would be difficult enough ordinarily, but is a real feat of strength whilst holding a viola to your neck and wearing killer heels. Mr Myerscough was also very animated during his performance. The only off-putting thing about this was that they occasionally stamped their feet on the stage, which is hollow and the sound of the reverberations broke some of the spell they were casting.
When I go to concerts I try to compare the music to something with which you will be familiar, but, with one exception, I was thwarted in this case. The first movement of Beethoven’s Quartet in F minor Op.95, was a very lively piece and there was a phase repeated which I couldn’t help but think was where the person who wrote the chase music for the Keystone Cops drew his inspiration. I have found a rendition on YouTube, by a different ensemble but if you give it a listen you will know what I mean. If you don’t want to listen to it all go to 4 minutes 5 seconds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwxYhUO9Gq4
The timing and synchronisation of the players was mind boggling. A lot of the passages started with all four of them coming in at the same time at full volume, something which could have gone horribly wrong, but they were perfect. The eye contact and slight facial movements ensured that they were always as one.
This was a wonderful evening witnessing a quartet at the top of its game, so much so that even I could appreciate the music and its execution to the full. It was capped by an encore comprising Elgar’s Quartet, which his wife loved so much she had it played at her funeral. Once again, information was supplied by Mr Meyerscough.
To see where the Doric String Quartet are playing in the near future please go to https://doricstringquartet.com/concerts/ and why not search the rest of the website to find out more about them.
For a full programme of events at Howard Assembly Room it is https://www.operanorth.co.uk/event-tag/har/
Back tomorrow for what sounds like another evening to add to my portfolio of firsts.
Photographs by Stan Graham