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"Moments of lyrical beauty, high intensity and rhapsodic clarinet lines... The players' performances had an edge and vitality. This was highly engaged playing which did not simply bask in the warm glow of the works but gave us highly thoughtful performances" Planet Hugill

We returned to Battersea Park bandstand for the third of Bandstand Chamber Festival's concerts, when the Solem Quartet (Amy Tress, William Newell, Stephen Upshaw, Stephanie Tress) performed a pair of late works, Haydn's Quartet in E flat, Op. 76, No. 6 and Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115 with clarinettist Anthony Friend (the artistic director of the festival).

Haydn's six Opus 76 string quartets, written in 1797-1799 (when he was 65 to 67) and the last complete set of quartets that he wrote, and Brahms Clarinet Quintet (written when he was 58) are both late works and the Brahms is routinely referred to as Autumnal. But what struck me, listening to this programme played by the relatively youthful players (the Solem Quartet was founded in 2011) was that what the two works had in common was the way both composers seemed to have a fascination for counterpoint, each work is built out of many moving parts with both composers ensuring that all the players contributed equally. The notion of a string quartet with four independent parts very much developed during Haydn's lifetime, and his writing for the genre contributed significantly to this, whilst Brahms in his quintet avoids the sense of a mini-concerto for clarinet and writes equally for all five instruments. Haydn, in his Opus 76 quartets, moved away from the traditional structures of the genre, with first movements that avoid sonata form and other movements using interesting forms so that the Quartet in E flat has a type of variations as the first movement whilst the second is a fantasia. Haydn introduced other changes too, so the quartets have a greater degree of thematic unity than was common at the time.

The first movement started out gracefully, a sense of polite music making, but as the movement developed so did the interest with the four players relishing the way Haydn gives motivic interest to all four lines. The players gave us a strong sense of engagement, the way the four functioned as a group. The second movement began with a beautifully sung melody on the first violin, and then Haydn shows us what can be done with it. The performance was intense and concentrated, rather than demonstrative, creating a striking atmosphere. By contrast the Menuetto (marked Presto) was vivid and perky, with a trio full of contrasts. The finale, full of intricate moving parts, had a strong onward flow and was wonderfully enjoyed by the players.

Brahms in 1890 wasn't old (he was 57) but he was contemplating retirement, thinking that in his compositions he had achieved what he wanted, saying he 'had achieved enough; here I had before me a carefree old age and could enjoy it in peace'. Perhaps his friends thought otherwise, anyway the playing of the clarinettist with the Meiningen Court Orchestra, Richard Mühlfeld, seems to have tempted Brahms into writing more. First a Clarinet Trio and the Clarinet Quintet, and then two Clarinet Sonatas. The quintet was first performed privately in Meiningen by Richard Mühlfeld and the Joachim Quartet (led by violinist Joseph Joachim).

Friend and the Solem Quartet gave a very collegial account of the work, five equals rather than having the clarinet over-spotlit. Whilst the first movement was Autumnal and melancholy, it was also flowing and full of engaged energy. The second movement's multiple moving parts coalesced into moments of lyrical beauty, high intensity and rhapsodic clarinet lines. The flowing third movement also felt like a complex textured structure which came together with a lyrical glow. The theme and variations of the finale were each full of character and individuality, the whole given a lyrical warmth which became Autumnal when the work's opening theme returned.

Two late works on an Autumn evening in the park, but just as the weather has a slight edge to it and needed that extra layer so the players' performances had an edge and vitality. This was highly engaged playing which did not simply bask in the warm glow of the works but gave us highly thoughtful performances. Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill, 11 September 2020

Original article here.

Images by William Marsey.

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"Blessed are the players and musical organisations who adapt and innovate, for they shall inhabit the post-lockdown landscape. And while we appreciate the difficulties any orchestra faces in terms of re-opening logistics and costs, livestreams have their limit. Kings Place, under the aegis of which this event was held, Snape Maltings, Bold Tendencies in Peckham's Multi-Storey Car Park, Scottish Opera, Battersea Park Bandstand Chamber Music, the Fidelio Orchestra Cafe and the Wigmore Hall, admitting a public very soon, are the heroes now."

8 September 2020, David Nice, The Arts Desk

This is an excerpt of a review of the Aurora Orchestra's performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 (from memory) on 7 September 2020.

Full article here.

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"The quartet...concentrated on intensity and often quiet intimacy. It was a remarkable performance" Planet Hugill

The sheer joy of music making: the Maggini Quartet emerges from hibernation to celebrate the delight of playing together The bandstand in Battersea Park is not quite the place where you would expect to find one of Britain's finest string quartets playing but thanks to the Bandstand Chamber Festival, artistic director Anthony Friend, and with the support of Wandsworth Council's Love Parks Wandsworth campaign, on Friday 4 September 2020 the Maggini Quartet (Julian Leaper, Ciaran McCabe, Martin Outram, Michal Kaznowski) performed Beethoven's Quartet in G, Op. 18, no. 2 and Dvorak's Quartet in F, Op. 96, 'American'. It was the quartet's first performance since lockdown and in his spoken introduction Michal Kaznowski described the players as having emerged from hibernation two weeks ago.

Outdoors, even under a bandstand, is not the ideal situation in which to hear a string quartet but this was a welcome opportunity for many people to hear live music in a safe situation. The players were discreetly amplified, and the sound was quite direct. The quartet sensibly made no attempt to 'big up' the sound, and instead concentrated on intensity and often quiet intimacy. It was a remarkable performance; without the acoustic warmth provided by a major concert hall we got to hear the players in great detail.

We started with the second of Beethoven's six Opus 18 string quartets, his first major essay in the genre and something he delayed somewhat perhaps aware of the strong competition in Mozart and Haydn's recent quartets, but in these works the young composer (31 when they were published) demonstrated his complete mastery. The second work in the programme was equally joyful, Dvorak's American Quartet. Written during Dvorak's well-paid but short-lived sojourn in the USA (his homesickness and an American financial collapse put paid to it), the quartet is part of a group of pieces that the composer wrote whilst on holiday in Spillville, Iowa which was home to a large Czech immigrant community. The first performance of the work was a private one in Spillville where Dvorak was joined by his unofficial assistant Jan Josef Kovařík and two of Kovařík's children.

The opening movement was full of energy, but we could also admire Dvorak's imaginative textures in the string writing, something that I kept coming back to when listening to the performance. The second subject was quite intimate and Julian Leaper's playing in particular brought a highly folk-inflected sense to the violin writing, and again this was something I returned to later in the performance. But there were also contrasting moments, particularly in the development, where the players were really digging in. The plaintive and soulful slow movement melody was beautifully folk-inflect, first violin and then cello, and at times the group really fined their tone down, so that at the end the cello solo was positively haunting. We really felt the Czech-ness of the music (for all the quartet's name) in the third movement, full of inventive textures and mood changes. The final movement's tight rhythmic energy kept erupting into joy, with haunting episodes, and vivid energy at the end. We had an encore, Puccini's Crisantemi intended to bring some 'Italianate sunshine' into the proceedings.

Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill, 5 September 2020

Original article here.

Images by William Marsey.

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