Maggini String Quartet - 3rd October 2020
The first concert of our season on October 3rd was a minor miracle because of the restrictions imposed due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Anxious committee meetings of the Society had run throughout the spring and summer and it was a triumph that the Maggini were able to perform for us. There was no doubt that this meant a lot to the socially distanced audience of thirty (one performance at 4.30, the other at 7.30), but actually a great deal to the performers who so thrive on playing before an audience.
The shortened performance began with Beethoven: Quartet in G opus 18 number 2 written between 1798 and 1800 and published in 1801
It consists of four movements:
Allegro (G major)
Adagio cantabile – Allegro – Tempo I (C major)
Scherzo: Allegro (G major)
Allegro molto, quasi presto (G major)
Haydn was Beethoven's teacher at the time, and there is a Haydnesque feel to the quartet although plenty of Beethovian moments.
The second piece was the Dvorak:Quartet in F Opus 96 ‘The American’, a firm favourite of the chamber repertoire.
It was written in 1893, during Dvořák's time in the United States, during a summer vacation from his position as director (1892–1895) of the National Conservatory in New York City. He spent his vacation in the town of Spillville, Iowa, which was home to a Czech immigrant community. Dvořák felt very much at ease in Spillville.
Dvořák sketched the quartet in three days and completed it in thirteen more days, finishing the score with the comment "Thank God! I am content. It was fast.” "When I wrote this quartet in the Czech community of Spillville in 1893, I wanted to write something for once that was very melodious and straightforward, and dear Papa Haydn kept appearing before my eyes, and that is why it all turned out so simply. And it’s good that it did.". Despite much research, it has proved virtually impossible to isolate specifically American influences.
The Maggini played brilliantly and as an encore played Puccini’s string movement Crisantemi, composed in 1890 in just one night, as alleged by Puccini in a letter written to his brother,a single-movement elegy based on two plaintive melodies in C sharp minor.
The audience were most appreciative of the concert, but surprisingly the musicians clapped the audience, pleased to perform and pleased to be appreciated again.
The Society are very grateful indeed to Steven and Anne Abbott, who generously sponsored the two concerts on 12th December 2020
April 2020 -We are sad to announce the death of our treasurer, Nicholas Ridley OBE
Nicholas Ridley joined the Ipswich Chamber Music Society in 1962 when founder Martin Slater was chairman. Within a couple of years he was appointed treasurer and remained so until his death on 31st March 2020.
Nick’s main interest in classical music up to then was through his passion for collecting very early recordings of famous singers such as Melchior, Caruso and Melba, and going to operas. However, in marrying Jessie (violinist) his love for and knowledge of string quartets and chamber music developed.
He took a pride in being responsible, along with members of the committee, for choosing and negotiating the artists and programmes for ICMS concerts and indeed has fixed the next two seasons, 2020-21 and 2021-22.
[Andrew Leach writes:] "I am very grateful to Jessie Ridley for kindly writing about her late husband, Nicholas. I had the privilege of knowing Nick Ridley for 26 years, including 25 years on the ICMS committee. I am sure that I speak not only for members of the ICMS committee, but also for members of ICMS, those who come to our concerts and to many, many more, in saying how much we respected and loved Nick and value the colossal contribution that he made to ICMS. His knowledge of chamber music was awesome. A few years ago he expressed the wish to pass on the responsibility to engage artists, having done this for over 50 years. This job was undertaken by the late Patrick Taylor for a couple of years. When Patrick sadly died last October, Nick stepped into the breach and completed the bookings for the next two seasons, for which we are extremely grateful.
ICMS was, of course, only one part of Nick’s varied interests. The EADT wrote: ‘Community champion and former council leader Nick Ridley OBE has died at the age of 82 after a short illness. Mr Ridley was one of the founders of the St Elizabeth Hospice in the early 1980s and continued to support it throughout his life. He remained president of the hospice until his death. In 2003 Mr Ridley was elected to Babergh council and within a few years had become chair of its strategy committee. He was council chair after stepping down from the strategy committee. He was awarded the OBE in 2005 for his services to the community in Suffolk and was also a magistrate for many years and a deputy lieutenant of the county. Mr Ridley was also a former trustee of the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket and the Ipswich historic Churches Trust, and an active trustee of the Lord Belstead Charitable Settlement, the Ganzoni Charitable Trust and the Ipswich Chamber Music Society."
We are greatly indebted to Nick Ridley for all that he did for ICMS as its treasurer for over 55 years.
Andrew Leach, Chairman
Coull String Quartet - Ipswich Chamber Music Society 15th February 2020
A concert with a string quartet generally sticks to the established repertoire. A viola or cello might be added but, in an enterprising touch, the society added two well established local artists for a performance of Vaughan Williams’ 1909 song cycle ‘On Wenlock Edge’.
AE Housman’s collection of sixty-three poems ‘A Shropshire Lad’ was published in 1896, becoming particularly popular during World War 1 when it accompanied many a young soldier into the trenches. His elegiac tone combined with lyricism and folk qualities made an immediate (and continuing) impression on composers and all but eight of the poems have been set to music by, inter alia, Ernest Moeran, Lennox Berkeley, Samuel Barber and Henryk Gorecki.
Vaughan Williams took just six poems, the first giving the title to the complete cycle. The bleak, windy setting (complemented outside the hall) was perfectly captured with tremolando strings and piano. The nostalgia of third poem was subtly underlined by the muted strings. Richard Edgar- Wilson’s rounded, lustrous tone added a layer of dignity to the sombre words of Bredon and, indeed, permeated every corner of the music. Andrew Leach’s clear, respectful accompaniment gave discrete cohesion to an immensely satisfying experience.
Schubert’s early quartet in Eb D87 aided by the sprightly contributions of violinists Roger Coull and Phillip Gallaway was a real pleasure, easy on the ear and with some arresting moments that point towards greater things to come.
Frank Bridge’s Three Idylls of 1906 perhaps encapsulate his achievement and reputation – music of considerable craft and originality yet somehow missing the stamp of genius. Jonathan Barritt made the most of the intense viola opening line and Nicholas Roberts’ dynamic cello was prominent in the final piece. Full marks for the opportunity to hear these infrequently performed works so well played.
Alongside the other two expansive quartets the third Rasumovsky is sometimes underestimated. However, this performance clearly showed Beethoven at his most creative, particularly in the searching harmonies of the first movement. The expertise and experience of the players came to the fore in the virtuosic finale and bought the evening to a worthy conclusion.
© Gareth Jones
Sacconi Quartet - Ipswich Chamber Music Society 5th October 2019
This was an evening of chamber music with a little twist; the genre and most of the composers familiar enough but the choice of works and balance of the programme was slightly unusual, though carefully planned and ultimately successful.
Eighteen years on from its formation the quartet retains all four founders and it is no surprise that they have achieved an exceptional level of balance and cohesion in their playing. This was particularly evident in Rachmaninov’s early Romance, a delicately melancholic piece with strong echoes of Tchaikovsky.
The Scottish composer Helen Grime is one of the most prominent and successful of her generation with a wide range of compositions to her credit including an oboe concerto in which she played the solo part at its premiere. She has been described as ‘a rising (perhaps now risen) star who is thoroughly composed’ and the phrase seems apposite to her quartet. It is a fairly tough work, there are occasional echoes of Bartok and the overall impression is very much of a strong musical personality who has something to say and knows how to say it. Dialogues between varying pairs of instruments are a notable feature of the work and the players projected an air of authenticity, doubtless the result of working directly with the composer. The playing was rugged when required but never coarse and dynamics and tempi were well controlled.
The first half ended with Beethoven’s opus 95, one of the most concentrated and spiky works in the entire quartet canon. The music never settles for any length of time, constantly lurching into new directions and keys and the players captured the restless mood exactly, the relentless rhythmic figures precisely articulated. Individual lines generally came through clearly although on occasions the first violin seemed a little reticent.
After three works that might generally be described as ‘darkish, serious’, the concert concluded with Mendelssohn’s first quartet, written when he was only twenty but already a successful and lauded composer. If thematically somewhat undistinguished it is certainly a ‘well-made’ work with elegant, flowing lines, trademark rustling semiquavers and a buoyant energy and joie de vivre. The playing was neat and focussed, particularly in the Canzonetta, the work propelled by its own internal dynamics and the experience and commitment of these fine performers. A most instructive and enjoyable evening.
© Gareth Jones
The Revolutionary Drawing Room - Ipswich Chamber Music Society 16 February 2019
‘Two majors, two minors’ might have been the instinctive, unconsidered reaction to the intriguing programme that closed the ninety-fourth season of the Ipswich Chamber Music Society. Mozart and Haydn need no introduction but Dittersdorf and Vanhal as two seemingly ‘minor’ composers were nevertheless prolific and successful in their day, though they were eventually overshadowed by the ‘majors’. None of this is to deny that the music of Dittersdorf and Vanhal is expertly crafted and well worth hearing, particularly in the hands of the Revolutionary Drawing Room. This is a string quartet that performs the late eighteenth and nineteenth repertoire using gut strings that were used at the time rather than the metal strings in general use today. Leader Adrian Butterfield made an eloquent case for gut strings while admitting that they may not quite have the ultimate power of their modern day counterparts.
Mozart’s C major ‘Dissonance’ quartet opened with a particularly probing reading of the opening adagio as it searched for a settled key. There was plenty of energy and dexterity on display but the tone flickered occasionally in the rapid passages and overall the work seemed a little diminished from its usual stature.
Dittersdorf’s A major quartet has three engaging movements, the first of which makes effective use of a repeated rhythmic figure and the second contains both stately and lively dances. All four players integrated seamlessly giving a sprightly momentum to the music.
The evening’s programme was based on the reminiscences of the celebrated Irish Tenor, Michael Kelly, specifically, a party that he had attended in Vienna at which Mozart, Dittersdorf, Vanhal and Haydn had played together as a quartet. It was, therefore, a nice touch that the lively finale of the Dittersdorf was accompanied by the popping of a champagne cork and serving of drinks.
Vanhal’s E flat quartet is, like the Dittersdorf, accessible and enjoyable and with an unexpected ending. The playing was accurate and polished with an unforced grace and charm.
How often does a concert of string quartets end with Haydn? In this splendid performance of his op 76/2 – ‘Fifths’, the composer’s sturdy originality and invention shone through giving him, both literally and metaphorically, the last word. There was serious and weight and authority in the opening descending fifths, the whole movement securely anchored by cello Ruth Alford with elegant and characterful contributions from viola Rachel Stott and violin Kathryn Parry. In the slow movement Adrian Butterfield brought a restrained virtuosity to the highly ornamented first violin line. Both minuet and finale bristled with brio and these fine players brought the quartet to a lively conclusion. As we left the enjoyable ‘party’ there was still next season’s programme to look forward to.
© Gareth Jones
A Review of the Castalian Quartet - Ipswich Chamber Music Society 26 January 2019
The Castalian String Quartet was formed in 2011 and, although still youthful in looks and approach, they have come a long way in the intervening years in both miles covered and the increasing acclaim that accompanies their concerts.
For their first visit to Ipswich an initially interesting programme yielded further surprises and pleasures. Haydn’s quartet in C major op 20/2 is not one of the more frequently played but it is a serious and substantial composition with some striking passages that would not sound out of place a generation or two later. It may not be quite as immediately appealing as Haydn often is in his quartets but there was much to enjoy in the warm, well balanced sound and neat articulation.
Britten’s second string quartet was first performed on exactly the 250th anniversary of the death of Henry Purcell, whom Britten admired greatly. The first movement opens with three different but related themes that are continually developed as the exposition proceeds. There is an arresting passage of glissandi and harmonics reminiscent of Bartok and Britten shows further mastery in combining the three themes into a contrapuntal web beautifully underpinned by Christopher Graves’ cello arpeggios. The second movement is hectic and uneasy and the players did indeed capture the mood while maintaining complete control. The large-scale Chacony finale was sonorous and authoritative with an outstanding viola cadenza from Charlotte Bonneton, clearly detailed and with a gleaming intensity. Enthusiasm abounded at the interval for two less common works and their vibrant performances.
The second of Brahms’ op 51 quartets is an easier picking than the thorny C minor but it still demands close attention, particularly in its early stages. In the opening movement the flexible and evolving themes were smoothly exchanged and the flow of the music was well captured. For the slow movement violinist Sini Simonen produced a clear, pure sound in the high resister that was carefully cushioned by the others. The sharp interplay of short, quick figures in the third movement was excellent, 2nd violin Daniel Roberts particularly busy and everyone on their toes. The gypsy flavoured finale brought the evening to a rousing conclusion - a splendidly conceived and delivered concert by this fine quartet.
© Gareth Jones