WITH the imminent recordings on the Signum label of string quartets by Anton Dvořák, the Albion Quartet presented two of these as part of its recent tour organised by Concerts in the West. Schubert’s A minor Quartet, Rosamunde, was the third quartet of Albion’s programme.
Dvořák’s F minor (1873) and E major (1876) quartets were written during a period when he was starting to search for a Czech identity in his music. However, it was also a time of personal grief as Anton and Anna lost three children in infancy. The effect of this misfortune is expressed in melancholy and sorrow at many points during the E major quartet. These tragedies and the need to secure an income to continue his work and his family’s future gave rise to works full of emotional contrast and diversity of style.
The near capacity audiences during the Albion Quartet’s tour were privileged to hear them play carefully considered and secure performances. The F minor quartet, in particular, radiated player confidence and a high-energy commitment to their decisions about the detail as well as the overarching structure of the work. The Czech and Slav elements of Dvořák’s musical style were to be heard emerging in the rapid to and fro of duple and triple metres of the F minor quartet and its Slavonic dance-like last movement. The Czech song-like lyricism of the viola part in the fourth movement of the E major was beautifully played with depth of character and sound. Dvořák, himself, was a skilled viola player.
Albion did push their instruments to produce dynamics of daring contrast. Occasionally the big forte verged on the over-reach and affected the tone rather negatively, but at the opposite end of the spectrum, there were magical pianissimos, never timid and holding the listener in awe. Each player of Albion – Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Emma Parker, Rosalind Ventris and Nathaniel Boyd – is individually a highly accomplished performer and together they emit the best qualities of a quartet: awareness, empathy and subsidiarity to the interests of the music.
The immediate recordings of Dvořák’s quartets at present occupy the Albion’s thoughts, but they are already a team engaged in imaginative programming with new music and lesser-known string works. In addition, Albion has been building its reputation through the Quartet-in-Residence programmes at several venues during the past two years and increasing its contact with a variety of audiences.