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Lunchbreak concert, Cowdray Hall

Written by Alan Cooper

Reproduced with permission

The opening concert of the Lunchbreak Season proper for 2013/14 ushered in what promises to be a fresh new line-up of exceptionally fine performances.

The ever popular Edinburgh Quartet played just one work, Dvořák’s String Quartet in G Major Op. 106. In his excellent programme note, Dr Roger Williams is right in drawing attention to the fact that so much truly excellent music in Dvořák’s repertoire is unjustly ignored. The Opus 106 String Quartet in G Major must rank high among such works. The composer’s most well known quartet, the F Major, "The American" is of course worthy of its popularity but actually, the Opus 106 shows a far greater mastery of the string quartet language and in their magnificent performance on Thursday, The Edinburgh Quartet brought out all its vibrancy, the delicious detail of its contrapuntal and harmonic imaginings and above all, its extraordinary freshness.

In the first two movements especially, all the playing was superb and I felt that the lightness and joyful expressiveness of Mark Bailey’s cello playing was the very hallmark of the fine airy performance given by the Quartet as a whole. The second movement had such deeply felt warmth, something that marks so much of this composer’s music and the Edinburgh Quartet players got to the very core of that musical glow. Here I must remark on Jessica Beeston’s particularly warm viola tone when near the end of the movement Dvořák brings the spotlight to play on that instrument.

The third movement fairly sizzled with happiness and energy. Here there was more than a suggestion of the Bohemian folk tradition that makes Dvořák’s music so especially colourful. That aspect of musical inspiration was joyfully obvious in the finale too and in this very characterful performance by the Edinburgh Quartet, Dvořák’s cheerful and generous personality shone through in moments of humour or if not that, at least of sunshine and smiles in the music. More than once the audience applauded individual movements, particularly the first and third. Some purists would sneer at this, but on Thursday, I felt this was justified by the sheer brilliance of the playing. Apparently this is quite common on the European continent although they have been known to hiss or boo if they do not like something about a performance. I don’t think I would like to encourage that.

As a final comment, I am fascinated when I compare the lives and music of Dvořák and Mahler. So many details of their early lives, and later on too (visits to America) run along remarkably similar lines - yet how very different is their music, technically but more importantly in emotional and spiritual terms. In the second half of the twentieth century, Mahler has had his place in the sun and perhaps now it is time to tune our ears to some of the less often performed music of Dvořák; so thank you Edinburgh Quartet and Roger Williams for getting us started on another new musical adventure.

Reproduced with permission