Have you ever had one of those moments when, checking out some new music, time seemed to stop, breathing halted and you seemed utterly and irretrievably transported to another place? I had this experience from the first note of Anne Akiko Meyer’s Air: The Bach Album playing “Air” from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068. I had this experience with Doric String Quartet’s new album Schubert: String Quartets Nos. 12 & 15. From the moment you hear the opening of the String Quartet No. 12 in C Minor, D. 703, “Quartettsatz”, you know you’re in for something special. Of course, your next thought is: “Drama much”? Schubert goes full tilt from the opening and the Doric String Quartet transport us into Schubert’s wide-ranging controlled chaos. There is care even in the initial intensity; it is fluid yet precise, sonorous yet buoyant. It is pure liquid loveliness.
While I have listened to Schubert’s string quartets before, I’ll admit to not being hugely intimate with them. My bad. I love the playful dance-like quality that is interspersed amongst more reflective movements. They embody so much – ethereal light bonbon moving to an earthy cello repast, sweeping passages of quick action with slower sections evoking a more serious gravitas. I love how they bring out the sense of this mild-mannered Schubert smelling the roses then his inner Teutonic intensity bursts upon us. These various emotions, settings, and passages are ordered to fit like puzzle pieces so that it’s hard to imagine any different musical construction.
This is my introduction to the Doric String Quartet, Alex Redington (violin), Jonathan Stone (violin), Hélène Clément (viola), and John Myerscough (cello), and most definitely will not be my last record of theirs. (I’m thinking the Janáček/Martinů for the next one). They have a lovely touch that mixes delicate precision with emotion and lyricism. Moreover, the recording seems to be a nearly perfect blend of intimate sound while preserving an open sound stage. While their recording venue, Potton Hall, Suffolk, seems low key (you’ll never confuse their control room with the one at Abbey Studios), the sound signature generated there is spot on. It doesn’t hurt that Chandros put these out in 24 bit, 96 kHz release (available on HDTracks in the U.S.) During some of the earthier passages, you can hear and almost feel, the grip of the rosin on the cellist’s bow. Pauses are utterly silent with no recoding noise. I had an opportunity to listen to this on my LG V20 (review to come – spoiler, overall I love it) phone alternating between Grado SR80s and Sennheiser Momentum headphones (more about these in Cans – A Personal Journey Through Soundscapes). The V20 has an ESS quad DAC capable of 32-bit 384 kHz PCM and DSD51 which is a geek-speak for “it outputs faithful sound for a smart phone.”
I think my teen son may have put it best – when done listening to ‘Quartettsatz’ (Quartet, D 703, String Quartet 12), he said “That was amazing. It started…” then he made a grrr sound while shaking his head, AKA said Teutonic intensity, “then…” and he waved his arms and slowly waved his head around apparently mesmerized by the more melodic movements. I feel. My son, Guy, is not inarticulate; attempting to put into words what Doric String Quartet brings out of Schubert in this recording is a Sisyphean task. So, seriously, just go get this album. Plunking down your hard earned cash will rarely be so rewarded.
Some Haydn from Doric as an introduction: