Fitzwilliam String Quartet at the Dream Factory, Warwick


at The Dream Factory, Warwick ****
One good thing to have come out of the pandemic crisis is the way it has caused concert promoters to find new ways of presenting events, and the wily Richard Phillips, with the experience of mounting over 4000 concerts behind him, came up with a winning solution.
He moved Leamington Music from its usual home base in that town's Pump Rooms to the Dream Factory, a highly flexible performing space between Warwick and Junction 15 of the M40, and a venue which on the evidence of this Tuesday evening proved accommodating and amenable. Its high roof makes for an attractive, open acoustic, and the large hall area made social distancing simple to organise with personally identified seating bubbles..
This was a delayed celebration of Richard's 80th birthday, and the Fitzwilliam String Quartet in fact began in celebratory mode, with an item extra to the programme, announcing Purcell's Chacony in D minor, which immediately morphed into "Happy Birthday to You"!
The programme proper began with Hugo Wolf's Italian Serenade, suavely given with rhythmic elan, phrased with nuance, but lacking something of the projection we have enjoyed from the Fitzwilliam over its near half-century of existence.
A similar sense of something missing came with Schubert's Rosamunde Quartet. This deeply personal work has so much to say about its troubled composer, beginning as it does with a desolate journey anticipating Bruckner (who in fact learnt much of his craft from Simon Sechter, the theory teacher who had previously taught Schubert). but though there was plenty of drama in this reading -- well-judged silences and nudging key-changes, for example -- the account didn't really compel.
It was the greatest master of the string quartet format, Haydn with his D major, Op,76 no.5, who at last delivered charisma and excitement, drawing, as this music must, from whoever performs this superlative music, edge-of the seat commitment.
Always a sturdy element throughout the evening, the lower strings built with their colleagues a wonderful warmth in the Largo (bathing in the indulgent waters of a six-sharp key signature), and a scintillating response to the finale's orchestral flourishes. The world of Haydn's spectacular London symphonies was never far away here.
Christopher Morley

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