October 25 2018
Review: William Ruff
Exhilarating playing from the high-energy Armida Quartet
Please excuse my ignorance but until yesterday I had no idea that, under the Communists, there was was an Autonomous Region of the USSR called Kabardino-Balkar (capital Nalchik) where you could hear the kjamantchi the national musical instrument, being strummed in down-town watering holes.
This morsel of geographical/historical knowledge came courtesy of the Armida Quartet, young string players who achieve a rich warmth of sound whilst bringing a fresh voice to the music they perform. They clearly spend much fruitful time in the rehearsal room as they play with remarkable unanimity and a deep sense of intuitive understanding.
It was Prokofiev who introduced Kabardinian themes into his String Quartet No 2, a work notable not only for its high-energy virtuosity but also for its folk elements. The Armida Quartet captured the local flavour, especially in the second movement in which the four players have to imitate oriental plucked and percussion instruments with numerous sonic effects.
Energy of a different kind was evident in Beethoven’s early C Minor Quartet, a work ideally suited to the Armida temperament. This is Beethoven the angry young man and it was thrilling to hear those stabbing accents in the opening theme and the triple-stopped chords which which the first and second violins jab each other.
Their way with the third movement Menuetto was (surely?) too fast – but exhilarating nevertheless. And the high-voltage gypsy-style fiddling in the finale was another ideal vehicle for the Armida’s brand of high-wire risk-taking.
They finished with Smetana’s From my Life Quartet, a poignant work which embodies the composer’s fears about his approaching deafness. The Armida Quartet responded to the work’s emotional extremes and delivered the extraordinary finale with the depth of understanding and dramatic skill which had marked the entire evening.