“Intimacy and Excellence”
The Edinburgh Quartet premiered its 2015/2016 Season with not so much a concert as a cleverly curated musical event.
The theme of The Edinburgh Quartet’s first trimester is “Intimate Voices”. First Violin Tristan Gurney introduced the evening by explaining that they wanted a theme that reflected the medium’s capacity for intimate expression, and that there were many composers who chose to write for it because of this intimacy at the very core of the musical experience. They exploited this brilliantly with their choice of opening work, Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2, Intimate Letters.
Janacek’s work is rewarding but challenging, and to plunge headlong into this incredibly varied, complex and intense oeuvre at a rush hour 5.30pm concert after a hard day at the office would have been a lot to ask of even the most ardent fan. So they didn’t. They led us in gently, and it made for an informed, involved and thoroughly inclusive musical evening of delight and difference.
The band kicked off with a beautifully together, easy on the ear interpretation of a waltz by Janacek’s contemporary Dvorak, and you immediately had the confidence that here was a quartet at ease with themselves, their music and their audience. We relaxed. Then Tristan got us into Janacek with his pleasing Romance for Violin ( accompanied on piano by the versatile second violin Gordon Bragg). In a bright move that greatly helped us all in the appreciation of the music that was to follow, Edinburgh Makar/Poet Laureate Ron Butlin introduced us to Janacek’s 11 year long, passionate, barely requited and entirely platonic romance with Kamila Stosslova, and read extracts from his love letters, whose poignancy enhanced the accessibility of the music and put it in context.
And what music it was! A beautifully woven tapestry of multifarious musical styles reflecting the panoply of emotions this extraordinary love affair engendered: bold unison openings, contrasting with passages so quiet that they were barely audible; rich melodic lines; frantic near dissonance; folk song; all greater than the sum of its parts in a way reminiscent of Beethoven’s late quartets. All in, a four movement work of less than half an hour’s duration for just four instruments!
And last, but of course not least, the playing. Sure, the string quartet is intimate, but it is also a quite disproportionately expressive genre. The Edinburgh Quartet is a well honed team, delivering demanding notation, phrasing and bowing, including pizzicato and sul ponticello, with not only great capability but real understanding, anticipating and following each other and never absorbed in their own playing at the expense of the group. Yet still with first class individual flair. Fiona Winning’s viola richly developing and sustaining the theme of Kamila from early on, with Mark Bailey’s cello in confident support and finally getting his moment of glory in the last movement. The violins, leading, supporting, ducking and diving throughout this rich, multi faceted and immensely enjoyable work. An artistic and audible treat.
Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 14 October)
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