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Mendelssohn on Mull Festival 2005, June 27th – 2nd July, by John Warnaby

 

 

This year’s Mendelssohn on Mull Festival was a day shorter than in 2004, allowing for extra rehearsals prior to the week’s concert schedule. There were also one or two fewer events, but in other respects, the programme followed the same outline as in 2004. There were 14 works, distributed among the three groups, plus the small string orchestra into which they were combined towards the end of the week.

 

Many of the participants were returning for the second, or even third year, and they were supported by the usual complement of six mentors. They all had close associations with the Artistic Director, Levon Chilingirian, either as his pupils at the Royal College of Music in London, or through their involvement with the various ensembles he has established in Sweden and Armenia. As he pointed out, besides gaining invaluable professional experience, their performances in small venues throughout the island gave them a rare opportunity to participate in chamber music as originally conceived, rather than projecting to large audiences, as though they were playing in an orchestra.

 

Each of the programmes included a Haydn String Quartet. The works chosen were from his op. 64 set, which presented a particular challenge to the first violin, as they were commissioned by Johann Tost, and designed to demonstrate his virtuosity. Apart from Mozart’s E flat major Piano Quartet, K. 493 and a curious Quartet by Anton Arensky, for violin, viola and two cellos, the other items comprised Quintets by Mozart, Mendelssohn and Brahms, the Adagio from Bruckner’s String Quintet and Brahms’ Sextet No. 2.

 

Each work presented its own problems, and there were open rehearsals, providing opportunities to hear how an interpretation is gradually established. Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2 in B flat major, op. 87 was a striking example. In their rehearsal on Monday, Group 2, led by Marcia Crayford, encountered problems of balance between the two violas and the rest of the ensemble. By the performance on Wednesday evening their interpretation had been refined to the point where these difficulties had been eradicated. The previous day, the same group had already given committed performances of Haydn’s String Quartet in G major, op. 64 No. 4, with its hymn-like slow movement, and Brahms’ String Quintet, op. 111.

 

The two other groups were no less committed. It was not possible to hear the full programme of Group 3, led by Levon Chilingirian, which included the Bruckner Adagio and Mozart’s Piano Quartet, with Richard Jeffcoat – the only mentor who was not a string player – as soloist. However, the concert they shared with Group 2 included Haydn’s B flat Quartet, op. 64 No. 3, and an outstanding reading of Mozart’s G minor String Quintet, K. 516.

 

Meanwhile, Group 1, led by Gaby Lester, offered Haydn’s Quartet in B minor, op. 64 No. 2, Arensky’s very Russian Quartet – an intriguing piece, but, in reality, not as strong as the other items – plus at least two performances of Brahms’ String Sextet No. 2 in G major, op. 36, which gained in stature on each occasion.

 

As in previous years, the Festival included a presentation of slow, contemplative music at Iona Abbey on Thursday morning. Each group performed an appropriate movement from their repertoire, before amalgamating for two sections from Haydn’s Seven Last Words, plus a string orchestral arrangement of the slow movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet in F major, op. 135. Two of the groups then gave concerts at the southern end of the island, before returning to Tobermory for the final event on Friday evening.

 

The concert began with the first movement of Brahms’ Piano Quintet, in which Richard Jeffcoat was the energetic soloist. However, it might have achieved greater impact if it had been placed at the end of the first half. In fact, the event really came to life in the second half, not least in some additional items organised by the young professionals themselves. Thus, Fritz Kreisler’s Zigeunerweisen, played by the Armenian violinist Astghik Vardanyan, accompanied by Richard Jeffcoat, was greeted with particular enthusiasm. There was also considerable enthusiasm for Haydn’s Emperor Quartet, arranged for string orchestra, which concluded the concert.

 

The audience comprised a mixture of visitors to the Festival, tourists, whose curiosity encouraged them to attend at least one event, and locals. It is hard to gauge the proportion of the latter, but they were strongly in evidence in the Tobermory concerts. The principal organisers, Marilyn Jeffcoat and Donald Leach, are not permanent residents of Mull, though they visit the island regularly. In fact, local interest could hardly sustain the whole enterprise, though it has been stimulated by the children’s summer school which was organised in parallel with the Festival, culminating in a presentation at the end of the week.

 

The success of the Festival was largely due to the ability of the young musicians to integrate into cohesive ensembles. Presumably, next year’s event will involve a new intake of students, about to embark on their professional careers. They may require extra rehearsal time, and even concerts, to ensure that they form string quartets and quintets as convincingly as the current batch.



 

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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)