The Carducci Quartet gave the opening concert of Shropshire Music Trust’s 2022/3 season; they instantly showed why they are assured of a warm welcome and an appreciative audience. The programme was the first of three under the title “Connections” and featured quartets by Mozart, Vaughan Williams and Ravel. Each of these works showed its composer at his very finest and our enjoyment was enhanced by learned, accessible programme notes.
Mozart’s Quartet No 17 in B flat major, K458, is the fourth in a series of 6 dedicated to Haydn and has the nickname “The Hunt”. These two musical geniuses established the string quartet as a vital genre and the Carducci players showed just why. The work is sublime; its opening suggests a pair of hunting horns and gave us a chance to hear all four musicians on their top form. Matthew Denton, first violin and cellist Emma Denton are, like second violin Michelle Fleming and viola player Eoin Schmidt-Martin consummate chamber musicians. Their close attention to each other’s playing and perfect sound matching and their obvious love for the music are all evident whether in the warmth and energy of the outer movements or the stately minuet.
So, the first connection in this evening’s performance is Mozart and Haydn; the second is Ravel and Vaughan Williams. They spent three months together in France in 1908, five years after Ravel composed his only string quartet. The Vaughan Williams work, on the other hand, was not composed until 1942/3.
The viola opens each movement, because the work was a birthday present to viola player Jean Stewart. The first movement opens with a sinister feeling; we are never far away from the shadow of the horror and insanity of war though the final movement, an epilogue marked Andante sostenuto, brings the work to a beautiful, serene close. The performance gave the feeling of despair giving way to hope in the beauty of the final movement; it was as always revealing the emotional intensity of Vaughan Williams’ reactions to war.
A sumptuous, almost orchestral, sound world was created in the opening bars of Ravel’s Quartet demonstrating the Carducci’s playing at its richest, a sound a million miles from that of the earliest quartets of Mozart and Haydn. In the second movement the pizzicato playing is described as “a kind of opium dream”. The players captured the shifting feelings-sometimes dreamy, others sparkling, and made the contrasts tellingly. In the third movement; Tres Lent, individual instruments state the theme in its spare, gaunt way. Its conclusion must have one of the longest die-away times in music. The finale is exuberant, energetic and turbulent and brings the Quartet to a joyous conclusion, a conclusion to a concert which was superb from start to finish.