FringeReview UK 2019
The Hammig String Quartet – David Burton, Sarah Colley (violins), Jane Tyler (viola) and Sean Turpin (cello) – play Schubert’s final quartet, the G major D887.
The Hammig String Quartet are back in full force from their outing last year – then with their marvellous rich reading of the Brahms Piano Quartet No. 2 in A minor Op 26. Now David Burton, Sarah Colley (violins), Jane Tyler (viola) and Sean Turpin (cello) play Schubert’s final quartet, the G major D887 from 1826.
It’s an extraordinary work, the least-played of his great trio of quartets, but paradoxically his finest. Musicologist Stephen Johnson thinks this might be because it’s Schubert’s least accessible: more complex, more multi-layered and a kaleidoscope of all his modes. Except… there’s no song at the heart of the slow movement, as there is in the A minor (‘Rosamunde’) D805, and of course the D minor 810 ‘Death and the Maiden’.
The very key of G can’t be sated as major or minor. The stentorian command of the opening Allegro molto moderato (G major, in 3/4 time) is as one says ‘riddled with tremolandos’ and sh through with light shade and folk-melodies almost being stated. There’s some extremes that push that Hammig’s violins hard, and you see why even this quartet who’ve tackled all Shostakovich’s fifteen quartets mind find this push of tonality treacherous. But they master it and their brisk way with tempi (they don’t observe first-movement repeats, rightly)
The Andante un poco moto (E minor, in common time) is a tenebrous restless substitute for any slow movement, full of dark scurrying and a shadowy dramatic piece. There’s pizzicato and a return of earlier dotted rhythms in an immersive speed-up with a rustle of strings shaking free. The Hammig enjoy total command here.
The Scherzo: Allegro vivace (B minor, in 3/4 time) starts off with a dark march-time with a bright centring of the core tonality Trio: Allegretto (G major). It’s a striking use of a movement and a mode often though not always to be found in the major. There’s a touch of proto-Mendelssohn at his most agitated here. Again the Hammig plays this out with fleet point and rasping authority.
The final Allegro assai (G major, in 6/8 time) would seem a homecoming to the home key, but it isn’t of course. Not only a struggle between major and minor with the opening theme stretched between, but sudden bursts of deadly folk-melody like dances of death. The first violin seemed exposed briefly during this stratospheric above-the-stave pyrotechnical display, it’s treacherous and wildly chromatic. If you listen almost in slow motion, it’s weird. But the movement still moved headlong into the shadowy affirmations ghosted by, on occasion, pure terror. The coda seems hard-won.
It’s a wonderful traversal, at 48 minutes without those repeats (the reckon it’d add another 4 minutes) it’s s flowing relatively fast reading that never seems hurried. An authoritative reading too. Seek them out, whatever they play.