Dudok Quartet Amsterdam
April 21 2022
Review: William Ruff
Music-making of imagination and intense commitment – combined with intelligent engagement with their audience
You could be forgiven for thinking that there are only so many ways in which the four members of a string quartet can present themselves in concert. But along come the Dudok Quartet of Amsterdam and make you think again. They seem astonishingly young to have achieved so much (world-wide concerts, many awards, rave reviews etc); they express their energy by standing up when playing; they use iPads rather than sheet music; they talk to the audience. Well, you might say, we’ve seen all that before.
The Dudoks go further, however. They create an immediate rapport with their audiences by involving them in the creative process. So at Lakeside on Thursday we were introduced to their instruments (enormously valuable ones on loan from the Dutch Musical Instrument Foundation) and especially the bows with which they play them: bows straight and curved, selected to produce the right sound for the right music. We learned about the pros and cons of gut strings – and about how composers influenced each other. All of this (and more) was conveyed in a delightfully informal, friendly manner by first violin Judith van Driel and cellist David Faber.
Another unusual aspect of the evening (at least in my experience) was that their enthusiasm for the music prompted them to give the audience a gift at the end: not just the dreamy Shostakovich encore but an attractive booklet containing a specially commissioned essay on Brahms’ 3rd Quartet by Dutch writer Jan Brokken. Its biographical and musical reflections on the composer and his quartet allow the concert experience to expand beyond a specific time and location and will no doubt encourage listeners to explore the music further at home.
Their playing of this Brahms quartet was a delight: carefree, spontaneous and with a real spring in its step, as befits this most outdoor and sunny music. The opening movement had charm and playfulness; the slow movement had elegance and gracefulness; the third movement allowed the viola (Marie-Louise de Jong) to shine. And as for the finale, here the Dudok Quartet clearly relished the ingenuity of Brahms’ variations on a theme. This was music-making with a smile on its face.
In the first half of their programme they played Haydn’s Quartet Op. 20 No 1. Haydn was really the inventor of the string quartet in an age in which purely instrumental (as opposed to vocal) music had to prove itself. Haydn’s musical intelligence – his wit – was apparent in every bar of the Dudoks’ playing and throughout there was a sense of an argument unfolding, as musical ideas passed between the four players. It’s also music that is full of surprises and sharp contrasts, the extrovert outer movements separated by a slow movement whose low registers and flowing chorale idiom create music of great intimacy and introspection.
The Dudok Quartet opened their concert with an unusual set of arrangements of earlier music, as if to demonstrate beyond doubt that music didn’t start with Haydn. Movements from Rameau’s Castor et Pollux were combined with pieces by Giovanni Gabrieli and Palestrina to produce a composite artwork of intricate diversity. The audience are unlikely to have heard anything quite like it before – but like the concert as a whole it revealed the musical imagination and intense commitment of this outstanding ensemble.
Dudok Quartet Amsterdam
Judith van Driel, violin
Marleen Wester, violin
Marie-Louise de Jong, viola
David Faber, cello