REVIEW: Powerful pieces from the UK’s oldest chamber group

The Allegri String Quartet
The Allegri String Quartet

Music@Ardingly Concert Series: Allegri String Quartet, Ardingly College, Monday, November 17

It was a great pleasure to welcome one of the foremost chamber groups in the country, the Allegri String Quartet, to Ardingly College.

Celebrating their 60th anniversary in 2013, the Allegri Quartet is the oldest chamber group in Britain.

The first half of the concert featured quartets by two titans of the genre – Beethoven and Shostakovich. Beethoven’s total mastery of the classical string quartet is demonstrated in Opus 18 No. 5 in A major, which is very definitely inspired by his predecessors and displays many Mozartian characteristics: dancing rhythms, elaborate codas and delicate textures.

The Allegri quartet play with an immaculate certainty and bring much to the performance with their physical gesticulations – there is a clear, almost telepathic understanding at all times. They are exciting to watch as well as to listen to.

Shostakovich’s Quartet in F minor No. 11, Opus 122 has seven movements, played as a continuous whole. It is a much shorter piece than the Beethoven, no less adventurous, but packed full of menace and tragedy. F minor was used by baroque musicians for death and to express great sorrow – this piece is dedicated to the memory of Vasili Pyotrovich Shirinsky, a close friend of Shostakovich. Shostakovich himself was recovering from neurological treatment at the time of writing. The Allegri foursome helpfully played main themes and other musical points of interest to look out for before the performance.

For the second half, the quartet were joined by international pianist Vicky Yannoula who is Ardingly College’s Head of Keyboard, for a performance of Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Opus 81. Composed in 1887, the work is something of a tour de force that includes some wonderful elements of Czech folk music, as well as a dazzling array of intricate passage-work for all players. The third movement, marked as a ‘Furiant’, is a fast Bohemian folk dance, and this was performed with real energy and verve – the fortissimo passages were surprisingly powerful and genuinely exciting.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable concert and a very well chosen programme.