Chamber Music Society of Williamsburg
Doric String Quartet in Haydn, Bartok & Mendelssohn
Williamsburg Regional Library Theater, March 7, 2017
Reviewed by John Shulson, permission granted by the Virginia Gazette

Excellence is the common denominator in the chamber music experiences brought to us by the Chamber Music Society of Williamsburg, with performances that are noteworthy, engaging, and fulfilling.

This was the case with the appearance of the Doric String Quartet in the Williamsburg Library Theatre. It was one of the more theatrical musical performances we’ve seen—theatrical meant in the best possible sense. The Doric offered a very visible as well as auditory example of that kind of intense engagement. Their body language and constant eye contact offered an intimate exchange of musical messages, which translated into a deep and total involvement with the music and its inner working.

Attention to detail helps to explain the acclaim that Britain’s Doric has garnered around the world. The program booklet offered no biographical information for the quartet: Alex Redington and Jonathan Stone, violin; Helene Clement, viola; John Myerscough, cello. There is little to be found online except that their instruments date from 1708 to 2008, which suggests to me their strong belief in the unity of the group and not individual accolades.

They opened the concert with Haydn’s Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3. Haydn is known as the “father of the string quartet,” having written some 70 quartets. The No. 3 is part of the “Tost Quartets,” a period of substantial growth for him. As with many of his quartets, the work offers innovative structure, irregular phrases and humor. Other than the Adagio with its hymn-like sustained line of elegance, the Haydn is a joyous romp, the spirit of which was fully embraced by the Doric.

Bartok’s Quartet No. 2, Op.17 was a very different experience.  Opening with an introspective lyricism that proceeds to flirt with things tonal and atonal, it moves forward with a highly charged, rhythmically challenging spirit in the second movement and closes with a near funereal quality—somber and subdued. Perhaps reflective of the turmoil of World War I, it’s an intense and dark work that the Doric embraced with notable expression and understanding. I’ve seen the score and it’s tough. The performance achieved emotional impact on hearing.

The evening closed with Mendelssohn’s F Minor, Op. 80, his last major creation of this genre. It pulses with the emotional stress he felt on learning of his sister Fanny’s death. The depth of his remorse is felt throughout the work, and there is an overall sense of unrest coloring the emotionally driven score. All four movements represent that loss and its impact, the incredibly powerful finale and its flourish of notes, poetically suggesting angst and anger over death. Powerful stuff, powerfully played.

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