Fitzwilliam String Quartet, Pump Rooms, Leamington
IN what other context can you be taken in the blink of an eye from one era of human endeavour to another seemingly unconnected and yet prompted to make the links and explore the meaning?
The Fitzwilliam Quartet’s welcome return to Leamington boasted just such a start with the bundling together of stately Purcell, wonderfully realised Palestrina taken from the renaissance choir to the recital chamber and then lyricism of a different kind in Rebecca Clarke’s contemporary Poem, a transcendent structure of layered lines as inventive as it is enthralling.
It was an unexpected combination but perhaps, like many fine feasts, we just have to note that the flavours work well together without having to delve too far into the science of why.
At a time when many of us are struggling to come up with ideas for suitable, maybe even inspired gifts to put under the tree, Vaughan Williams makes the case for the truly homemade in his A Minor Quartet. True, it’s a birthday present dedication rather than a Christmas offering, and the introspective nature of some of the work’s darker passages may be far from celebratory, but there cannot be a better demonstration of the old adage that it’s the thought that counts.
Plenty of thought has gone into the Fitzwilliam’s reading of this enigmatic, slightly fractured work. The viola of the gift’s recipient is, of course, to the fore but there were passages of delightful supporting textures throughout, with the second movement Andante particularly sublime.
Being given the opportunity to feature prominently in a work of real beauty and mystery with which you will always be associated? That has to be better than a garden centre token surely.
Those of us caught up in the World Cup and the endless expert analysis in its coverage will have spotted the slight change in the standard quartet’s back four, lining up as they do with the cello more central and the viola working the flank. We’ve had standing, sitting, even – at the Dream Factory evenings – playing in the round. All changes make a difference. The net effect of this evening’s arrangement is to give a slight boost to the lower tones of the more forward-facing cello and in Schubert’s mighty Quartet in G this really pays off.
The unavoidable problem of works as vast in scope and power as Schubert’s, is to shuffle earlier works to the edge of the memory a little faster than you’d wish.
The quartet have brought this work here before and, such is the power, emotion and attention to detail they bring to it, they could play it again tomorrow and I’d still go.
The immense structure of the opening movement can rarely have been given such a wide dynamic. The opening quiet passages almost ghostlike in their lightness and spectral nature, giving way to the familiar storming sections where the combined output of rich sound is such that we’re almost tempted to count the instruments. Fabulous playing once again.
If it’s clear that this quartet loves this work and revels in its huge landscape, then that is never more evident than in the relentless rhythms and lush harmonies of the mesmerising slow movement. Having successfully and exhaustingly climbed the high peaks of the first movement this is our chance just to enjoy the view. And what a beautiful, imposing, life-affirming view it is. A gift for us all.
The music continues with plenty of offerings to reflect the festive season. Visit leamingtonmusic.org for full details and to book tickets.