Arcadia String Quartet

Concert date: 18 February 2018
Reviewed by: JRC

Transylvanian magic landed in Newton last Sunday: magic because the audience was so spellbound by the Romanian muscians

As soon as the Arcadia Quartet were playing the first few bars of Haydn’s ‘Joke’ Quartet I felt there was something sonorously different. There was a warm balanced tone and also beautifully resonant pianissimos. The Scherzo gave us the jollity and the expressive light heartedness one expects of Haydn. Arcadia’s credentials now firmly established, we came to the Largo sostenuto and a complete change of mood: for me a slight frisson in that I felt a surreal edge to this movement’s pomposity. And as any comedian knows, one must establish credibility before a joke will work. The Arcadia’s poise and timing worked a treat in the finale.

To programme Borodin’s ‘This is My Beloved’ quartet after Haydn’s ‘Joke’ seemed rather a risk too close to the hackneyed. However the Arcadia transported us well clear of the commonplace. Mercifully, we were spared excessive use of vibrato. Instead we delighted in their clarity of tone, sensitivity of dynamics and pianissimos to die for! Perhaps it is the fact that this quartet has travelled together so extensively through the concert halls of the world that they play so effectively as one. There was no need of physical flamboyance or affectation; the music arose from the group. It felt somewhat of a relief to be free of the, admittedly engaging and visually exciting, experience of a live performance of a string quartet where the melodic line is thrown around as a ‘pass-the-parcel’ exercise. The Arcadia transcended this; their music was all.

The second half of the concert was Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 in C minor ‘Dresden’, something I should admit is not in my comfort zone. However, what a huge difference performers can make to the perception of a piece of music. The intensity of emotion was overwhelming whether in a lament of despair, hauntingly eerie passages, or the startling shrieks of the ‘Psycho-like’ episode. The final movement left the audience numb. Eventually applause started, then grew and persisted until the Arcadia gave us an encore. The viola player said that they would leave us with a more cheerful mood of a Folk Bagatelle. What a masterpiece of planning that was, and how amazingly versatile the Arcadia Quartet is.

Not only are the Arcadia stunning musicians [their sustained notes of enduring purity will stay with me], but they are also technically innovative. All their instruments had ZMT Tailpieces, which may, at least in part, account for my initial feeling that the sound quality of this Quartet was different from anything I had heard before.