"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.