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Dante Quartet Rubbra Quartets Series
at Blackheath Halls & on CD

Rubbra No 1 and Franck 17 February 2003
Rubbra No 2 and Fauré 10 May 2003

The Dante Quartet marked their recorded cycle for Dutton of the string quartets of Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) with four live recitals, each programme featuring also one of the great French string quartets. I attended the two Sunday morning concerts, which included the least well known of the latter, late works by Franck and Fauré.

Each programme began with a Mozart quartet. Led unobtrusively by Krysia Osostowicz, the Dante's unanimity of ensemble, intonation and tonal balance is impeccable. On 17 February the Hoffmeister Quartet K499 held me entranced from its first phrase. Since the wall-to-wall exposure to Mozart in his bicentenary year, I have found it wise to limit listening to music by this unquestioned genius; over-familiarity can dull receptivity, and on 15 May my usual resistance re-asserted itself at QEH during an unremarkable account of K428 by the famous Alban Berg Quartet.


String Quartet No. 1 (1934 rev 1946)
String Quartet No. 3 (1963)
Improvisation for unaccompanied cello (1964)
Cello Sonata (1946)

Dante Quartet/Michael Dussek (piano)
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7123 [Apr 2002, 71.41]


String Quartet No. 4 (1975-77)
Lyric Movement for String Quartet and Piano (1929, rev 1946)
Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn O Quande in Cruce (1962)
Dante Quartet/Michael Dussek (piano)
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7114 [May 2001, 59.13]

The Edmund Rubbra quartets were revelatory on both mornings. They are tonal, but less conservative than may first appear - he was an independent original who injected new life into familiar forms; form guided by content and its contrapuntal elaboration. The first of the four has two grand sonorous movements followed by a crisp little finale, disconcertingly brief and leaving the audience at the interval eager to hear his others. The second, on 10 May, is on a larger scale, earnest, eschewing ornament and any frivolity, but wholly compelling in this performance. It was paired after the interval with one of the most austere, and infrequently performed, of Fauré's major works, the one he determined should be the last in his published oeuvre; abstract musical thinking, a quartet for connoisseurs, said Krysia Osostowicz, with an afterthought that some of those might be present! All in all one of the most satisfying string quartet recitals I had heard in years.

Franck's monumental Quartet, dating from his last year ("what a monster" said my neighbour) was more problematic at Blackheath in the first of the series. A rarity in UK, one that this quartet (influenced by its French cellist?) cherishes, as they do the Fauré, it took us to 1.45 and was a heavy last course before lunch. I had admired it since buying its first recording - my ancient Eulenburg score notes the numerous side changes on the Lowenguth 78 r.p.m. discs, long lost. ('Gramofile' reviews show no recording of the quartet currently available, though there have been many of the Piano Quintet.)

Franck's quartet is beautiful, no question, and was beautifully played, but its exhaustive working out of material brought to mind the heavenly lengths of Schubert and Bruckner, and on this occasion had entranced me less than previously, the latter movements outstaying their welcome. The mercurial scherzo is a sheer winner, which could be an encore favourite; perhaps in this concert the interval should have been taken sacrilegiously in the middle of this work, as one might do when listening to it on records at home?

I hope Dutton & the Dante Quartet will consider coupling the Franck and Fauré quartets on CD? (There is no need for another recording of the Debussy or Ravel, which they played in the afternoon concerts.)

The Dante Quartet's two CDs of Rubbra Quartets are wholly recommendable, examples of the debt that record collectors owe to small companies like Dutton.


See also CD review of Franck and Fauré Quartets (Hyperion, 2008) [Editor]

© Peter Grahame Woolf