Musicon raise the classical bar with the internationally reputed Allegri Quartet
by Clare Everson
Durham University’s Musicon concert series seriously raised the bar this week, with an exhilarating evening of String quartet music on Wednesday 2nd May, performed by the nationally renowned Allegri Quartet. Founded in 1953, the quartet is Britain’s longest-running chamber music ensemble, sustained by generations of the finest international performers.
Much of their ‘fresh’ and vibrant personality comes from a continuous renewal of repertoire; premiering over 60 works over the years, many of which have been specially commissioned pieces by exciting new composers such as James MacMillan (composer of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie) and Alexander Goehr (previous collaborator with Benjamin Britten).
Of course a combination of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Borodin is always going to excite a classical music lover such as myself, however it wasn’t until they opened with Beethoven’s No.4, Op.18 that I realised the thrill and conviction the Allegri quartet were going to bring to the evening’s programme. The dark inflections of “sturm und drang” in the opening dispute between the first violin line (played by Ofer Falk) and the rest of the quartet was a superb start to the concert, with all four instrumentalists playing with wonderful confidence and strength.
Being in the front row, one felt incredibly involved with the performance, but I’m sure even audience members at the back saw the musicians almost come off their seats at moments of extreme energy. The unity of the quartet was especially notable in the final movement, where I found myself almost breathing alongside the players before their entries, which surprisingly were often led by the ‘cello, who had a certain assurance in her direction of the ensemble.
Their affecting performance of the Shostakovich has stayed with me since Wednesday evening. No.8, op.110 is an incredibly emotive work which he wrote after visiting Dresden following the Allied bombing of the Second World War. Shostakovich dedicates it “To the memory of the victims of fascism and war” after the “horrific and senseless destruction” that made a deep impression on him; so much so that he’d finished the quartet in three days. These emotional nuances were depicted with great expression by the players bringing sensitivity to the mournful, elegiac textures (last movement), and strength in the forceful ‘bombing’ three note motif (fourth movement); an intricate interweaving of Shostakovich’s anger and sorrow.
Borodin’s string quartet No.2, is a wonderfully romantic work dedicated to his wife, which he Allegri quartet presented with touching elegance and particularly tender phrasing of the melodies. Perhaps it would be interesting to rearrange the programme to see how it would work if this came before the Shostakovich, as the poignancy of the lyrical Russian romanticism may have had more of an impact had it not had the difficulty of following such a strikingly tragic work. However, this is not to say that the beautiful tone and expression in the first violin and ‘cello melodies went unrecognised.
Post-performance discussions mirrored my thoughts, with comments from audience members such as: “particularly outstanding was their performance of the Shostakovich in which the essential character of the music was clearly and intelligently conveyed to the audience”.
An outstanding concert by an ensemble that has now gained many new followers.