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