On the afternoon of Sunday, 28th January 2024, every single seat at Shrewsbury School’s Maidment Auditorium was taken for the eagerly anticipated return of the Carducci Quartet, internationally acclaimed as one of today’s most accomplished and versatile ensembles. Shropshire Music Trust’s Artistic Director, John Moore gave the quartet the warmest of introductions and a hushed audience burst into applause as the members took to the stage: Matthew Denton and Michelle Fleming on violin, Eoin Schmidt-Martin on viola and Emma Denton on cello.
With barely a glance at one another, they led us, as one, into the first movement of Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in D major, Op. 20, No. 4, a classic sonata form full of dramatic surprises, followed by the yearning, reflective passages of the second movement. Haydn’s tempo direction for the third movement’s minuet and trio is ‘Allegretto alla zingarese’, meaning ‘in the Gypsy style’ which the Carduccis performed with dazzling syncopation, before the playfulness and exuberance of the final ‘scherzando’ (‘joking') movement.
The Quartet took a bow and left the stage as the audience prepared itself for something extraordinary. In an interview she gave in 2017, Michelle Fleming said, “A particular highlight for us was our ‘Shostakovich15’ project, in which we performed 10 complete cycles of Shostakovich’s 15 Quartets all around the world in 2015.” This afternoon, we were to be treated to a recital of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.10, composed in 1964. Matthew opened with a four-note motif on solo violin for the first ‘Andante’ movement, which features the glassy sound of 'sul ponticello', as well as Shostakovich’s distinctive ‘anapest’ rhythm. The second movement is entitled ‘Allegretto furioso’, such an apt direction of a movement that truly seems to depict a ‘dark night of the soul’, with its frenzied, remorseless attack. The audience was left breathless at its end, before the lyrical yet unsettling strains of the third movement, segueing without pause into the final movement and its extensive use of drones and folk song rhythms led to its uncertain finish.
After a chance to catch up with old friends over a glass of wine, we retook our seats as the Carducci Quartet returned to the stage, along with internationally acclaimed concert pianist and recording artist Simon Callaghan, to perform Schumann’s Piano Quintet Op.44. His performance shone with precision and virtuosity and injected Schumann’s quintessentially ‘Romantic’ composition, “chamber music moving out of the salon and into the concert halls”, with almost effortless exuberance. He and The Carducci Quartet exploited the combined forces of piano and strings to full effect to delight the audience with a richly textured rendition of one of Schumann’s finest compositions.
Simon and the Carducci Quartet were called back three times to receive standing ovations, smiling broadly as they drank in the applause. It had been another triumph for the Shropshire Music Trust and an afternoon of extraordinary flair and artistry. We all look forward to the earliest return of these spectacular musicians.