S&H Chamber Concert Review

Schubert String Quartet in A minor, D804 (Rosamunde) Haris Kittos Piece for String Quartet Richard Rodney Bennett Lamento d'Arianna Elgar String Quartet in E minor, Op 83
Solaris Quartet Music Past and Present series, Jacksons Lane Community Centre, London March 4 2001

As to programme planning, this was a model concert. The Solaris Quartet (Mark Wilson, Neil McTaggart vns; Morgan Goff, vla, Nick Allen, cello), formed in 1998 and now resident quartet at the London College of Music, are enterprising in their promotion of new and little-heard music, in keeping with the ethos of tonight's venue. Two repertoire works, arguably the first and last 'romantic' string quartets to be written, enclosed two modern works with overt allusions to the past.

After a tentative start with some suspect intonation and ponderous upward runs in the first theme's development, the quartet gelled and played with tight ensemble and keen momentum, producing a well-blended, sweet tone in the second movement and a really passionate development of the Rosamunde theme. The Minuet's first theme brought deft questioning and answering from violin and viola, and beautiful singing tone in the rhapsodic expansion in the Minuet's second half; the Dvorakian trio section had an aptly rustic feel. A rhythmically tight finale with exhilarating first-violin runs, perhaps a shade too fast, concluded a heartfelt and pleasing, if slightly under characterised performance.

Haris Kittos is a young Greek composer, whose one-movement Piece for quartet ('too small to be called a string quartet') replaced the William Attwood work programmed. The idea of interviewing him informally on stage beforehand was a good idea. He explained that his Piece is in sonata form, and portrays clearly expounded ideas, which are developed through interaction with (and superimposition of) others. One 'idea' which occurs many times is a 'stabbed' gesture. And, as in Schubert, silence is used to create space and suspense. The slow, groping beginning clearly recalled Beethoven's Third Razumovsky and Mozart's Dissonance Quartet, and an angry development section full of violin pizzicatos against insistent viola and cello quavers harked back to Bartók, who Kittos admitted was also an influence.

Richard Rodney Bennett's modern 'take' on Montverdi's famous madrigal Lamento d'Arianna (adapted from his opera, Arianna, most of which is lost) alludes even more overtly to the past and could almost be called a Fantasia
on the Lamento d'Arianna
. An arrangement of the first stanza of the madrigal is played as a tonal introduction before the music goes off at a dissonant and less tightly structured tangent (Tippett's Fantasia on a Theme of Corelli is indeed an obvious parallel). The leitmotivic use of the D, E flat, B flat, A, theme taken from the Monteverdi work, is similar to that of the D, E flat, C, B (or DSCH) motif in Shostakovich's Eighth Quartet. Some
bad tuning in the leader's solo towards the end and a reluctance to let rip in some of the more animated sections of the development were minor blips in an otherwise eloquent performance.

This tendency towards caution also featured in Elgar's heartfelt  E minor Quartet, especially in the impetuous Allegro moderato, which lacked momentum and the sense of abandon needed in the climaxes. The Solaris chose an ideal speed for the Piacevole movement memorably described by Elgar's wife as 'Captured Sunlight', and the second violin, in particular, displayed just the right subdued, dark tone here. A magical moment was the final, ethereal descending passage, in which the quartet's hushed, veiled tone was perfect. And they shone in the finale, playing with commitment and confident attack from the start, as well as with excellent ensemble in unison passages. Again though, tuning went occasionally awry and the rhythm wasn't tight enough towards the start of the recapitulation.

Thanks to an imaginatively chosen programme, lively presentation, and sensitive and dedicated playing with a strong sense of ensemble, this was a very enjoyable concert despite the fact that the Solaris weren't always as well-projected or as brazenly confident as they could have been. I hope they will develop in that direction.

Sarah Dunlop

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