Carducci Quartet, Leamington Pump Rooms
You’re allowed to enjoy a little end-of-term horseplay as the festive season arrives – provided you stick to the prevailing guidance on Covid of course. And the brilliantly light approach to Haydn’s Opus 33 Quartet ‘The Joke’ provided a welcome burst of levity as music lovers found themselves back in the world of masks once more.
The joke appears at the end when Haydn slots in pauses to fool the listener into thinking the piece has finished only to trip up the applause with a couple of surprise resumptions. It’s a joke most music followers would have heard before and it’s always a moot point how much – like the weary but willing pantomime audience – we like to play our part by allowing ourselves to be fooled afresh.
But two points about this moment of gentle fun stand out. Firstly it should never take away from the delightfully-observed quartet which precedes it. The Carducci Quartet certainly hit the ground running with a sprightly tempo and some sparkling witty exchanges affording the work much more than just the status of a musical oddity.
Secondly it should be seen in the context of a programme that was far from frivolous. No Christmas party this. This quartet have brought the music of Shostakovich with them many times in recent visits and, though the 7th is far from the most despairing and bleak, there is plenty here to admire, perhaps provoking thoughts of the menace of the latest variant ever threatening to come knocking on our doors.
Beethoven’s momumental opus 132 was simply sublime. Wonderfully-measured and played with commendable attention to the many layers on offer, it was a perfect companion to the cold outside and the resolute hope within. The huge slow movement hung perfectly in the air and I doubt anyone was not moved by its serene and inspiring beauty.
While it is tempting to view our own situation through the lens of this simultaneous thanksgiving for survival and hope for recovery, it may be enough to note that works of this emotional depth provide both profound solace and the opportunity to reflect on what makes the things in life worth living for, worth living for.
By starting with a welcome joke and then reverting to the top-class fare we’ve come to expect, perhaps the message is that no matter what temporary interruptions may occur, it will be business as usual for those following this admirable series. And what a gift worth unwrapping that is.