By James Montgomery
With attack, that’s how these young players began their performance. This was the spirited first of four movements of Haydn’s String Quartet Opus 76, written in his twilight years at the same time he was working on The Creation. In this quartet’s Adagio, Haydn used the similar complex, adventurous and inventive harmonic progressions that he wrote for the beginning of the Creation, musically advanced for the time. Clearly we were in for a rewarding evening. The players especially enjoyed the tugging and teasing in the third movement’s Minuet dance.
While Haydn’s life was long – he died in 1809 aged 77 – Mendelssohn’s was tragically short – exactly 40 years less, but he still wrote 750 works before his death in 1847. His Capriccio in E minor is one of four string quartets, published together three years after he died. He famously championed the music of Bach, the master of the fugue. Hardly surprising then that he was a dab hand at it too, displayed here in this short work by giving the players much joyful ducking and weaving. The Alauda Quartet tackled it with gusto, and in the few gentler moments gave us a most pleasurable richness of sound.
It was Mendelssohn to whom Schumann dedicated the evening’s final work, his String Quartet, opus 41 number 1. They and Chopin were contemporaries, all of whose compositions were the very essence of 19th Century romanticism. This Schumann Quartet was performed charmingly by the Alauda. Youthful energy in the meandering first movement, bows bouncing off the strings in the second, textures resonant of the composer’s four symphonies in the fourth.
However it is the third movement, the Adagio, that endures. It echoes the song and piano works for which Schumann was so renowned. Here the cello is given the elegant, undulating melodic cornerstone, decorated by the other instruments. This haunting theme was played beautifully.
The Alauda Quartet, (named incidentally after one of Haydn’s other string quartets – Alauda is Latin for lark), is a truly European group. They met five years ago while studying at the Royal Academy of Music – the first violinist is from Spain, the second from Serbia; the viola player is from Wales; the cellist is Italian. Many plaudits have already come their way during their concert travels here and abroad.
The hallmark of the great string quartet ensembles – the Brodskys, Juilliards, Salomons, and Takács for instance – is the ultimate fusion of musical minds, souls and bodies, a quality that with time and further study will come to this talented group, that is if they decide to stay together. We hope they will. They played superbly, and whatever their futures, they deserve the best of luck.