Iffley Music Society

Fitzwilliam Quartet: Iffley Church

By Giles Woodforde

The Fitzwilliam String Quartet doesn’t get all the credit for the innovative programme it played for the Iffley Music Society. “I was sent a long list, and asked to choose” IMS artistic director Michael Bourdeaux told us. No doubt it was this unusual approach to repertoire that led to each work sounding extra fresh — there was no feeling of musicians churning out the same old stuff as they had played elsewhere the previous evening.

The quartet (Lucy Russell and Colin Scobie violins, Alan George viola, Heather Tuach cello) revealed a bright, muscular, and assertive sound as it embarked on one section of Haydn’s Seven Last Words. The music was written to cover lengthy pauses during a service: this performance ensured that nobody would have dozed off, had the Fitzwilliams been playing at the time.

Jackson Hill’s Ghosts was commissioned by the Fitzwilliams to celebrate their 40th birthday last year. Drawing from Purcell’s string fantasias, but with a touch of George Butterworth mixed in, this work demonstrated that the Fitzwilliams sound particularly well when playing quiet, reflective passages.

“Some of you may be surprised by the range of this piece” said Alan George as he introduced Vaughan Williams’s Quartet No 2. And indeed the Fitzwilliam’s performance emphasised the fact that there is a great deal more to this composer than hymn tunes and The Lark Ascending. There is never a note wasted in this intense, compact work. Even the movement labelled “Romance” is desolate, although the Fitzwilliams did allow a touch of genial VW to creep in towards the end.

Finally, the Fitzwilliams delivered a commanding account of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet. They produced the orchestral sound that Schubert wanted, with their playing running all the way from the yearning quality of the opening, to delicate variations in the second movement, to stormy power. The performance set the seal on an unusual and memorable concert.