The 2014 Oxford Lieder Festival is drawing to a close, having presented this year’s audiences with the ‘The Schubert Project’: all of Schubert’s songs (over 600) have been performed over the last three weeks by such internationally renowned artists as The Schubert Ensemble, Imogen Cooper, and Bengt Forsberg.
The Doric String Quartet (violins: Alex Redington and Jonathan Stone, viola: Hélène Clément, cello: John Myerscough) have won several prizes and have a busy international concert schedule. They were joined for this concert by cellist Bartholomew LaFollette, whose solo performances in recital and concerto settings have received great critical acclaim.
Following the previous evening’s performance of the ‘Death and the Maiden’ (D.810) the quartet returned to the historic Holywell Music Room for Schubert’s last chamber work: the String Quintet in C Major, D.956. The dynamic between the first and second cellists was notable for its energy and this remained exciting throughout the performance.
Some of the concert’s most striking moments were the frequent passages where two instruments play in dialogue. This was particularly the case with the cellists, whose low-register restless figures underpinned the higher voices with striking intensity; they played their gentle duet in the first movement with lyrical, well-blended tones. When the two violins took over this theme, they retained the rich tone and mirrored their perfect balance in the higher register.
The gentle opening of the Adagio was well-paced and the gradual harmonic shifts in the opening chords were subtly handled by the inner parts. This was flanked by sweetly played, but never indulgent, melodic interjections from first violinist Redington, and resounding, articulate pizzicati from LaFollette.
Schubert’s quintet is full of contrasts — the inner movements in particular have strikingly different central episodes characteristic of his later style. The turbulent centre of the Adagio was gripping, with Redington and Mysercough rhythmically exact and matching in volume and intensity. The low cello rumblings of LaFollette and the rhythmic urgency in the inner parts afforded this ‘volcanic’ episode the energy it deserves.
The Scherzo was executed at a fast tempo, and the smiles of the quintet suggest they were enjoying it as much as the audience was! The music was allowed able to speak for itself — Clément and LaFollette gave their duet passages time to breathe, and the different voicings of the closing passage were brought out with subtle clarity.
Aside from one moment in the Finale where the highly technical violin figures seemed on the verge of derailment, the fast tempo paid off and the energy of the performance shone through. The final minute was perfectly judged and very exciting, and the closing figures were appropriately dramatic. The quintet was received extremely well by its audience, and the performance was a perfect end to an excellent season of chamber music at the Oxford Lieder Festival.