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"The last in a series of four Bandstand Chamber Festival concerts, in which the Hill Quartet played works by Haydn and Ravel, made for a delightful Indian summer’s evening" Boulezian

The last in a series of four Bandstand Chamber Festival concerts, in which the Hill Quartet played works by Haydn and Ravel, made for a delightful Indian summer’s evening. Strings are not the easiest instruments to play outdoors. The Battersea Park Bandstand offered shade and shelter, however, any intonational shifts swiftly addressed.

Haydn’s op.64 no.6 Quartet opened with expectancy and poise: a fine balance typical of the Hill Quartet’s reading of the first movement as a whole. Contrapuntal learning, lightly worn yet deeply felt, proved key to the onset of the development. Unexpected tonal paths, relished yet never exaggerated, led us to the twin reassurance and further development of the recapitulation. Rapt without preciosity, the Andante flowed with equally fine judgement, its stormy central section holding the attention vis-à-vis a passing aeroplane. Haydn’s Minuet was taking swiftly, yet was never unyielding, accents and phrases the key to its progress. Its Ländler trio rightly relaxed, first slightly tipsy; second time around, more than slightly. The players clearly loved Haydn’s play with harmonics; how could they not? A Haydn finale in all its glory concluded the performance, performing the role one might expect, yet never in expected fashion. Most important, throughout its exhilaration, it smiled, even laughed.

Ravel’s Quartet made for quite a contrast. Its first movement offered poise of a different, complementary kind, An increasingly strong sense of disconcerting undercurrents spilled over, setting the scene for a reading both dramatic and variegated. If broader contours were in good hands, so was attention to detail. Ravel imbues a cello pizzicato or the emergence of the viola as soloist with great poignancy; such poignancy, however, requires and received fine projection in performance. Rhythm and harmony proved each other’s agents in the scherzo: a game of mutual incitement that flipped over into melancholy and then perhaps something sadder still. Combination of the two tendencies was not the least of the Hill Quartet’s achievements. Similar yet different relationships between material marked the slow movement, ultimately and rightly drawn on a grander emotional canvas. A whirlwind opening to the finale brought hints of later Ravel vortices. Especially impressive was the communication of tendencies unifying both this movement and the work as a whole. Time, then, to look forward already to next year’s festival.

Published by Mark Berry, on 17 September 2020

Image by William Marsey.

Original article here.

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"Their poise and style were those of a well established team... I've not heard a more fluid and refined interpretation" The Arts Desk

Trees in the shape of the London planes surrounding Battersea Park Bandstand added to the healing which has been constant through the four chamber music concerts there these past few weeks. The last, on Tuesday evening, was as individual as the others had been, and distinctive in its weather too – the warmest Indian summer evening. The players of the Hill Quartet were the youngest, too holders of the Royal Academy of Music's Chamber Music Fellowship and mentored by John Myerscough, cellist of the Doric Quartet which launched this festival, but only just, ceding a few years to the previous concert’s Solem Quartet. Their poise and style were those of a well-established team, even though the wonderful second violinist, David Lopez, has only just joined (pictured above and below by William Marsey, the quartet in the bandstand: Bridget O'Donnell, Lopez, Julia Doukakis and Ben Michaels).

Was it just coincidence that the gaggle of ring-necked parakeets squawked their loudest during the glissandoing trio of Haydn’s E flat major quartet, Op. 64 No. 6, with its high-pitched bird notes on return? This time planes were not flying overhead to smother the outer-section serenity of a Haydn slow movement, as they had in the Solems’ concert, and that would have been a problem given the half-lights and mystical shimmers of the Ravel Quartet. I’ve not heard a more fluid and refined interpretation; if you strained to catch some of the subtleties so much the better. It just shows that if you give an audience the licence to do what they want and the performance is first-rate, they’ll listen; in none of the four recitals could there be the slightest irritation with near(est) neighbours, as there was at the Wigmore – but that at least was a reminder of the live experience. Another shout-out to clarinettist Anthony Friend for seeing the bandstand as a plausible venue, for his links with Wandsworth Council (out in force on the last night, along with the Mayor) and fundraisers. It points the way to a brilliant spring and summer season in 2021, regardless of how the pandemic places us. May other bandstands in town be used in similar ways; there’s no lovelier way of enjoying chamber music. David Nice, The Arts Desk, 17 September 2020

Original article here.

Images by William Marsey.

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"Cultured beauty from outstanding musicians in the heart of Battersea Park" The Arts Desk

Music going back to nature, or rather the managed nature of a London park, can make you think and feel quite differently about great composers’ responses to the world around them. To hear Dvořák’s blissful “American” Quartet the Friday before last in the tender hands of the Maggini Quartet was to realise something of the circumstances around its swift (16-day) composition on a summer holiday in the Czech community of Spillville, Iowa, and to go back to the essence of rustic music-making as well, of course, as the essence of folk music which links the composer’s native Bohemia with Afro-American spirituals and native American songs. To hear Brahms’s late Clarinet Quintet from Anthony Friend and the Solem Quartet six days later on a sunny early evening was to sense not so much autumn as sunset in the music.

Even the adverse side of al fresco music-making could be turned to the good (how unwound we’ve become in our welcome of post-lockdown events). Last Thursday, the first of the three Battersea Park Bandstand events so far to be dogged by planes coming in to Heathrow directly above, the slow movement of Haydn’s E flat Quartet, Op. 76 No. 6 felt like an indelible essence, returning between the overhead noise as an emblem of artistic survival – especially when played with as much cultured tone as the Solems gave it. Dogs barked at the one violent string tremolo in the Brahms Quintet, and the thud of running feet around the circle sometimes chimed especially well with the livelier movements. The Magginis and Solems may not be quite as big name-wise as the Dorics, who kicked off the mini-festival, in the world of the string quartet, but they remind us that there are hundreds of top-quality musicians who don’t get the same recognition as the ubiquitous few – you only have to attend any chamber-music festival in the world, and there are have been very few options to do so at the moment. Maggini first violin Julian Leaper (pictured below third from left with Ciaran McCabe, Martin Outram and Michal Kaznowski) relished the wit in Beethoven’s G major Quartet, Op, 18 No.2, sounding as fresh and original as when it first appeared. His counterpart in the Solems, Amy Tress, whose sister Stephanie is the cellist, gave a lovely speech just before the Brahms crediting partner Friend for getting the whole thing off the ground and telling us that the Quintet’s slow movement had been special to her since childhood. She went on to take the melodic line so poetically and inwardly to prove it. Anthony Friend, whose enterprise in setting up this superlative series can’t be too highly praised, was sitting with his back to my seat a few metres away in the bandstand, and it may have been because of the situation that his seemed a more soft-grained clarinet role in the proceedings than the more embattled ones I’ve heard over the past two years, but that’s also a valid way of approaching the piece.

The Maggini evening was a sombre one weather-wise; Met Office predictions of heavy rainfall between 6 and 7pm had mercifully shifted to four hours later. Then, as they gave their exquisite if surprisingly downbeat encore, Puccini’s I crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) the horizon glowed reddish-pink. “The shadows are gathering…the flame is going out,” sings the dying Manon Lescaut in the final act of the eponymous opera which adapts music from the quartet piece. Tomorrow the light will fade on a promised beauty of an evening as the Hill Quartet offer Haydn and Ravel: the last of a musical summer which was rescued, there in the inspiration of a park bandstand, in the nick of time, to the joy of players - working together for the first time in nearly six months - and ever increasing audiences alike.

David Nice, The Arts Desk, 14 September 2020

Original article here.

Images by William Marsey.

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