Critical Acclaim for Dudok Quartet Amsterdam at the Northwestern Winter Chamber Music Festival
Dudok Quartet Amsterdam Gave an Inspired Performance
By Louis Harris
Dudok Quartet Amsterdam returned to the Northwestern Winter Chamber Music Festival on Sunday evening with a program of music from France, with a work by the Austrian Franz Joseph Haydn thrown in. As was case in their last appearance at Evanston’s Pik-Staiger Hall in 2018, this young group showed off a wonderful light handed touch and exquisite ensemble interaction. Just as importantly, the Dudok Quartet Amsterdam preceded the performances with excellent explanations of the music and, in doing so, established a nice rapport with the audience.
The first half of the concert concerned the 18th century, starting with Jean-Philippe Rameau, an oddity since this baroque French composer was active decades before the string quartet line-up came into vogue. Dudok cellist David Faber arranged a suite from Rameau’s Opera of 1737, Castor and Pollux. In doing so, he enabled performance of music from an age that is rarely, if ever, heard in string quartet concerts. It was a very nice departure from the norm.
Castor and Pollux was a perfect vehicle for the Dudoks to show off their subtle touch and careful interplay between one another. Rather than bombast and fire, most passages were lyrical, with the two violins playing melodies in counterpoint separated by major thirds and other small intervals. The viola and cello were wonderful complements, sometimes trading the melodies with the violins. Faber might have arranged for his cello to have a bit more prominence in the mix, but it was still very enjoyable, nevertheless.
The performance was great. Like the Rameau, this music is more lyrical than bombastic, and the interplay between the instruments was remarkable, especially between van Driel and Faber in the opening movement’s middle section. The contrasts between the stark slow movement and light minuet were also very effective.
Dudok cellist Faber transcribed the sixth piece, “Oraison,” (“Prayer”) for string quartet, and its meditative, yet haunting tones served as a perfect introduction to the evening’s main work, Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F-major, which the Dudoks attacked with little break from the Messiaen…It worked perfectly for Dudok Quartet Amsterdam’s overall sound, and the climaxes came seamlessly. The second movement shifts back and forth between rapidly plucked strings and quiet melodies, allowing the Dudoks to exhibit tight musicianship in various contexts. The measured restraint on display throughout the evening allowed the ensemble to open up and play the finale with the appropriate gusto and intensity. It was an excellent contrast to the earlier material.
After several rousing ovations, the Dudoks offered an encore: a lovely rendition of the third movement from György Ligeti’s second string quartet.
Third Coast Review
Dudok Quartet steps outside the canon for inspired Winter Chamber Music Festival performance
By Michael Cameron
With two and a half centuries of literature by most of Western music’s finest composers at their disposal, string quartets that wish to expand the repertoire traditionally have done so by commissioning new works. But an emerging trend seeks growth in the opposite chronological direction: arrangements of past works not written for quartet.
This is not an easy feat considering that the string quartet, in both the form and instrumentation, had a more definitive origin story than most genres, thanks to the inventive and prolific pen of Haydn. But this season patrons of the Winter Chamber Music Festival at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music have heard examples from two young quartets of arrangements of works from previous eras. Impatience with the sacred, canon-affirming three quartet sequence in string quartet programs seems to be the order of the day.
On Friday the Aizuri Quartet presented reconfigured works by Gesualdo and Hildegard von Bingen. On Sunday in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, the Dudok Quartet Amsterdam introduced festival attendees to a suite, Choeur des Spartiates, from Rameau’s opera Castor et Pollux, arranged by the group’s cellist, David Faber.
The quartet performed this charming if lightweight score with an ear to modern conceptions of historically informed performance practice, aided by convex bows, and nearly unadorned with vibrato. As in all of Dudok’s repertoire, the quartet’s timbres matched with uncanny exactitude, and balances were precisely calibrated.
Most of the evening’s repertoire mined French sensibilities to varying degrees, and the emphasis on color and a lilting rhythmic profile gave their Rameau a tasteful yet unmistakably Gallic sensibility. French Baroque composers were nearly obsessed with ornamentation, so one could have imagined more such decoration in their reading.
The placement of a Hadyn quartet before intermission, rather than as program opener, signified the centrality of the composer in the foursome’s brief history. And indeed, coming after the Rameau, Haydn’s Quartet No. 2 in C major seemed to gain in gravitas from its usual introductory role.
The Op. 20 quartets are his first set of unqualified masterpieces. No. 2 in C major looks both backward in its Baroque fugal techniques and forward in its more egalitarian use of all four string players. The opening cello solo is exhibit A in this new democracy, and Faber made the most of his opportunity with a fluid, seamlessly sculpted reading.
The sublime Adagio opens with the players in octaves, an operatic signal to listeners that something of dramatic import is at hand. Dudok never rose above a mezzo-forte in the entire quartet, but the limitless array of quiet shadings — always feathered a niente — paid handsome dividends.
Haydn’s drones at the opening of the minuet are no doubt a reference to the hurdy gurdy, an instrument the composer would have often heard in the streets. Their performance could have adopted a more rustic approach to reflect Haydn’s populist bent, but their unflappably elegant style was nevertheless fully engaging.
Faber’s haunting version of an excerpt from Messiaen’s Fête des belles eaux (originally composed by the unlikeliest of ensembles: a sextet of Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument) served as an introduction to an alluring account of Ravel’s String Quartet in F major.
The opening movement unfolded with a sumptuous statement of Ravel’s motto theme, while the octave melodic passages of violinist Judith van Driel and violist Marie-Louise de Jong fairly glowed with radiant nostalgia. The foursome’s opening pizzicatos in the scherzo popped with youthful brilliance, and the composer’s infatuation with Spanish rhythms have rarely sounded so authentically idiomatic.
Every attribute of this superb group coalesced in a sublime, incandescent account of the third movement. Ravel recycles his motto theme in altered form in the opening, and the ensemble’s muted strings and softened color palette bathed the composer’s plush harmonies in an enveloping warmth.
Chicago Classical Review