Review by Matthew Salisbury
Beethoven’s late quartets had to overcome some fairly substantial hurdles to make it from the composer’s first inspirations to the public stage – not least Beethoven’s own deafness making it a trial for him to appreciate what he’d written.
Obstacles of an altogether different kind have stood between the music and its audience in the run-up to this concert and, I am happy to report, the successful clearing of those hurdles was well worth the effort.
Social distancing has hit so much of the live performance schedule. Concert programmes have been scrapped and theatres left dark as the need to keep ourselves safe has left the arts in tatters. Hats off then to those who have not given up.
A change of venue from the charming but tight Pump Rooms to the more expansive Holy Trinity Church has allowed a decent number to attend, a situation made even better by a generous agreement between organisers and artists to play twice in an evening.
The still unsettling sight of an audience entirely masked and required to sit at a distance from one another soon gave way to the familiar balm that only live music can provide. Close your eyes for a moment and this could – just about – have been business as normal.
Beethoven’s E Flat Quartet 127 is introspective and private enough to provide its own social distancing. Its immersive developments and intricacies draw the listener into a bubble almost completely removed from the world. For many of us obliged to work from home, the lockdown has been just such a musical bonanza; the opportunity to work entirely to your own soundtrack with only the occasional phone call to interrupt the enjoyment.
But evenings like this (thankfully) remind us that music-making is as important as the music itself and to have the chance to watch such a talented young quartet take this music from the composer’s mind to our own ears is all the more poignant for the six-month gap we’ve had to endure. The church’s cavernous acoustic is perhaps better in the softer passages than the full-on attacks, but this was top class playing and so utterly welcome.
The quartet’s own Donald Grant provided the closing arrangement for a wonderfully evocative sketch of Scottish folk tunes bringing images of a far simpler time to mind.
A military operation to allow everyone to leave the building safely sadly returns us to the demands of the times we’re living in. But just for a moment this evening it was possible to escape above the problems and concerns and theta is reason enough to be thankful for those continuing to overcome these obstacles.
– The Fitzwilliam Quartet are next in the series – edicts from Downing Street permitting. Again they are playing twice and tickets details can be found at leamingtonmusic.org