It’s like buses – you wait ages for a Bartók string quartet and then two turn up at once! The Diverso String Quartet gave Bartók’s First Quartet at their concert for Huddersfield Music Society, and the Escher String Quartet play the same work tomorrow (Thursday) at
Leeds Howard Assembly Room.
This work is crucial in the string quartet repertoire, one of six by Bartók which are at the heart of his output and comparable in profundity with Beethoven’s. It sees the composer as a young man moving away from German romanticism towards his own unique musical voice, away from Catholicism towards atheism, and away from his unrequited love for a young violinist.
The Diversos were at home in this music. They are violinists Dagmara Forys, from Berlin, and Marcin Ostrowski from Manchester, violist Magdalena Krawczuk, from Poznan, and cellist Zofia Łodygowska,from Wrocław. Zofia is married to Robert Guy, a Huddersfield University Conducting Tutor and Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Conductor.
They are very new in string quartet terms, coming together only three years ago.
They were searingly passionate in Bartók’s funeral dirge first movement – a lament for his lost love harmonically stuck in the German tradition. They were lucid in the second movement’s complex lighter and darker moods which alternate through changing harmonies verging on atonality.
In the captivating introduction to the third movement, with strange pre-echoes of Shostakovich, violins and viola returned to passion over an achingly exquisite cello solo. The third movement itself was mostly gruff Beethovenian good humour, laced with heavy tensions, particularly in the pentatonic passages reflecting Magyar folk song.
The Bartók was preceded by Janáček’s First String Quartet, whose sub-title ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ refers to Beethoven’s famous Sonata and a Tolstoy novella of the same name.
It roughly corresponds to the emotional progress of Tolstoy’s love triangle tragedy. The Diversos emphasised its theatricality and rejoiced in its busy use of string techniques such as sul ponticello, harmonics and pizzicato.
They made this music vividly evocative – including the fragment from Beethoven’s Sonata which is suggested rather than directly quoted in the third movement – with each instrument preserving its individual character amid Janácek’s swinging moods and caustic tone colours.
They opened the concert with Mozart’s K387 Quartet, its singing qualities presented with delicate and witty affection, but with some imprecise tuning.