Concert review

Albion String Quartet

21st January 2019

The Albion String Quartet visited Penrith for the first time to give a finely-honed recital of Haydn Maconchy and Beethoven.  However both violinists, Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Emma Parker,  had played here before for the Music Club  as soloist and ensemble player.    

Formed as recently as 2016 the Quartet has made an impressive  reputation in a short time with performances in prestigious venues, recordings, educational and community work.

They started the evening with less familiar Haydn – his C major Quartet op.20 no.2.   In 1772 Haydn was still developing his ideas ofhow to treat this new combination of four independent string players. Bach had died only 22 years earlier so there are still echoes of the Baroque era in this searching  music. 

Immediately Haydn takes a new approach by giving the cello the opening theme -  a jaunty statement played with suitable panache by Nathaniel Boyd. The lively conversation which followed was managed with enviable precision and aregard for dynamic contrast that came near to the inaudible at times but blossomed into full –toned energy when first violin and cello arrived in the development (hammer and tongs) section.   

The slow movement harked back to a sort of Baroquerecitative style – vigorous gestures of dottedrhythms contrasting with hushed asides – performed with great assurance and sensitivity. The second part of the movement became lyrical, more like later Haydn, a chance for the first violin to changed to enjoy  its customary melodic role. The relaxed Menuet prepared the way for another  Haydn experiment  - a four-part fugue, and back to Bach again.

The equal sharing of the  subjects proceeded in a restrained manner, all four players balancing well before finally getting up steam for  the final and vigorous exchange. This was a fine performance of an interesting, transitional  piece of Haydn.

Elizabeth Maconchy’s Quartet no.3 (in one movement), written in 1938, received the full treatment of total commitment  and great technical ability. The opening idea, harping on a semitone, was most expressively played with a fine cohesive quartet sound; its  development through the rest of  the movement  was most lively in the two fast sections – Bartokian accents and glissandi contributed to the excitement  before the contemplative mood returned.This excellent  live performance of neglected music  was well worthwhile - a reminder of music still to be discovered and appreciated.

Before the Beethoven Nathaniel  Boyd introduced the players’ instruments -  three were Italian from 1694, 1710 and 1720, the viola was made in Wales in 2011. Violist Ann Beilby was happy that she paid the lowest insurance premium!

We were happy that they could make such a splendid quartet sound. This made Beethoven’s ‘Harp’ Quartet a memorable experience. From the first hushed sounds to the vigour of the  first movement this was a performance of impressive quality.   Beethoven never lingers too long in his slow movements and each player contributed to the suspended, serene atmosphere of the Adagio.  

The fiery Scherzo fizzed and in the final variations the sense of enjoying each change of mood as players took up their strand of the discourse was conveyed with infectious enthusiasm.   An exceptional concert to bring cheer on a dismal January evening.

John Upson

Updated on 19th March 2019. Contact webmaster
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