The Dante String Quartet

Concert date: 18 March 2017
Reviewed by: JRC

The Dante String Quartet brought another touch of international excellence to our area at the 6th and penultimate Nadsaconcert of the season. Their programme ranged from Mendelssohn and Dvorak to Beethoven and Janacek, so something to inspire and stimulate us all.

Mendelssohn's Capriccio in E minor Op 81/3 was a delightful opening. The mellifluous tones of the first violin, bathed with the supporting strings, made for an emotively limpid Andante barcarolle, whereas in the following Allegro there were bursts of vitality in what was a glittering fugue.

The selection from Dvorak's Cypresses took us to another place again. Based on a song cycle written when Dvorak was mending his broken heart, they are romantic and lyrical: and the performance was truly beautiful. Moods varied from wistful to moderately lively, with the timbre of the viola feeling appropriate for this very emotional offering. How refreshing to be impressed with the quartet's delicacy of pianissimos, delivered without the embarrassment of visual affectation.

And then we came to Janacek's String Quartet No 2 'Intimate Letters'. At the age of 63 Janacek met Kamila Stosslova who was 25 and, though both were married, he fell madly in love with her. He wrote over 700 letters to her, and she inspired him to write several operas and this String Quartet. The Dante's rendering of this work left one in no doubt that this was not serene love, but involved tension and sudden changes of mood. Their gentle pianissimos gave great poignancy to sections that contrasted with the tension and turmoil of others.

The first movement of Beethoven's String Quartet No 13 was electrically handled as the coordination of the Dante ushered us melodically through changes of texture and tempo. The Presto was suitably mercurial, and had its few moments of bluster which contrasted with the following Andante where restrained elegance came to the fore. In the rhythmically dance-like fourth movement, its melody became delightfully elaborated before a somewhat de-constructed finale; a fitting preparation for what followed.

The Cavatina, described as the 'emotional heart' of the work, is reported to have moved Beethoven to tears. In the hands of the Dante it was heart-rendingly effective. Oscar Perks, the second violinist, had introduced us to this 13th Quartet and had said that we would be hearing the revised version of the 6th movement. It maybe better not to have been told that the final movement we were about to hear was not the composer's intention. Beethoven had composed a momentous, ground-breaking fugue to complete his quartet, but performers at that time could grapple with neither the physicality nor sheer creativity of the material. One feels that Beethoven took a hint from Rossini here and gave the public what they asked for, rather than his original monumental support for the Cavatina. Our Dante's finale was thus delightfully frothy and affirmative, and just the way to end a popular concert.