The Hague String Quartet began their concert on 4 November with a work by Haydn and as I listened I wondered about the woman whose portrait sat in the display cabinet at my side. She was a near contemporary of Haydn, though living far from him.
The room settings at the concert venue, the Muzee Scheveningen in the coastal district of The Hague, show by the number of instruments on view that music played a large part in the lives of the 18th century locals. After all, the silverwear and other jewellery on display also show that this was a prosperous neighbourhood, where fishermen’s families were soon to become accustomed to seeing visitors stroll along the beach in their fine clothes, and the paintings by Isaac Israel (1865-1934) bear witness to this.
What would the portrait woman have made of this quartet, opus 76 number 2? Would she have marveled with me at the beauty of the opening Allegro with Haydn’s characteristic uneven phrases and exquisite melodic lines? Would she have found the variations of the second movement charming and joyful, and would she have heard the Finale fly by in a flash, as I did? All that’s a maybe. I am sure she would not have made the same reflection I did about the Minuet: this movement has a powerful and dark ring to it, with canon devices between violins on the one hand and viola and cello on the other. The sombre character is a far cry from the Minuet of the dance suite and is as much a transformation of dance movement to concert inspiration as are the waltzes of Chopin.
The Hague String Quartet are Paul Eggen and Heleen Kuiper, violins, Ron Ephrat, viola and Monique Heidema, cello. They are all well established local professional musicians who have played together for many years and this was clear in their fine ensemble playing and common understanding of the music.
In her spoken introduction to the Debussy quartet opus 10 which completed the programme, Heleen Kuiper commented that the French master showed the influence of many styles in his work, including music hall. I heard echoes of Smetana’s Ma Vlast and a foretaste of his own La Mer in the first movement, was bedazzled by the moto perpetuo of the second movement and was enthralled by the beauty of the last two movements, which were indeed doucement expressif and avec passion respectively.
This concert is one of a series at the Muzee Scheveningen, which has a resonant acoustic entirely suited to chamber music and today’s audience obviously enjoyed the concert, as I did. I am sure our silent witness from centuries past enjoyed the music too as she listened from her portrait’s frame.