A Review of the Fitzwilliam String Quartet

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The Fitzwilliam String Quartet is one of the longest established string quartets in the world. The group was founded in 1968 by four Cambridge undergraduates, and the quartet has achieved much international recognition since. Current members include Lucy Russell and Marcus Barcham-Stevens on violin, Alan George on viola, and Heather Tuach on cello. The quartet has visited campus regularly since 1978 and currently supported by the offices of the President, Provost, and the School of Management. The concert was held at 7:30pm on Wednesday, March 18th in Bucknell Hall-- a beautiful setting for a string concert given the accoustics. The program opened with pieces by Purcell, Chacony, Fantazia and a Double on Fantazia. The Chaconny was set in a theme and variations form in mostly eight-bar variations. All three pieces were very similar in character and created a serious tone. The program notes explained that the piece was a dance, however, I didn’t find that the dance-like quality came across in the performance. There was also a noticeable lack of change in dynamics.

The violist of the group stood up after the first piece and explained how the program was planned. He explained that the program was based around war and the concept of death. He then mentioned the group’s recent encounter with death after the passing of two older group members.

The next piece was by Bach and clearly reflected Bach’s fugue style. The piece was simple and again I was surprised by the lack of change in dynamics performed. The first violinist also made some obvious intonation errors and a few squeaks.

The next selection was a very short piece by Mozart. I was surprised by how short it was and also surprised by the chromatic lines in the figured base. It didn’t seem like the character that I’m used to hearing from Mozart.

The third piece was my favorite in the entire program, a meditation by Josef Suk who I had never heard before. The piece began muted which forced the group to use some dynamics. The piece itself was stunning, however, I was still bothered by some errors made by the first violinist. She may have been having an off day.

After a short intermission, the group began with "The Seven Last Words from the Cross" by Haydn. The piece was made up of an introduction separated into seven sonatas and finished with the Terremento, which was a Presto. I found the program notes to be extremely helpful while navigating this piece and noticing the distinctions between sonatas. Without the notes in the program, the piece would have really blended together and I would’ve zoned out more that I would’ve liked to.

Overall, I was disappointed in the program. This is not my first time hearing this quartet, and I was surprised by some of the intonation errors made throughout the program and lack of dynamic variations. This was surprising to me especially because this music is not the most challenging program I had heard from them. Aside from the Suk piece, I was not a fan of the selections from Purcell nor Haydn as I have had a better listening experience during the more romantic programs the group has performed at Bucknell.

The quartet will also be performing on Wednesday, March 25th at 7:30pm in the Weis Center Lobby.