Kreutzer Quartet, Wilton’s Music Hall, London: Beethoven, Sadie Harrison, Edward Cowie and Michael Finnissy
Tempo March 2014
The Kreutzer Quartet’s ‘Beethoven Begins’ series, based around the great German master’s Op 18 string quartets, has included an example of new music in each of its six concerts, a tribute to the players’ eclectic tastes, versatility and accomplishment in diverse repertoire. Their generously filled programmes all take place within the flaky grandeur of Wilton’s Music Hall, one of London’s quirkiest and most bewitching venues.
On 11 October 2013, the charismatic leader of the Quartet, Peter Sheppard Sk?rved, gave the world premiere of Sadie Harrison’s Gallery, for solo violin (2013). This collection of eleven short pieces, is the first in an ongoing series of works inspired by Sk?rved’s artwork, either in terms of the technique with which they were created, or as a response to the inherent drama and beauty of the subjects. J S Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas were invoked by the clarity and purity of Harrison’s idiomatic writing and in the timeless, archaic quality of her more study-like movements. Specific effects, such as glissandi and harmonics, were quietly effective and invariably at the service of the ideas, which were strong and memorable. The collection was split into two parts, the second of which contained some especially well-defined miniatures, such as the violent and implacable Nur Pünktlich, the wistful nostalgia of Sheppard’s Meadow, and the resolute, folk-like scrubbing of It Rubs Off. Peter Sheppard Sk?rved surmounted the various technical demands of him with insouciant ease and gave a warmly characterful rendering of pieces clearly tailor made for his talents as a communicator. Gallery is a most welcome addition to the repertoire, with a scope and vision sufficient to suggest that even more of its facets might be revealed where other soloists to take it up. It is good news that Harrison has already embarked upon a further collection of these art-inspired, jewel like pieces.
Continuing the theme of pieces inspired by artwork, on 21 October 2013 the Kreutzer Quartet gave the first performance of Edward Cowie’s new version of this Third Quartet, In Flight Music (2013), which grew out of a series of related drawings by the composer, his preferred modus operandi. First completed in 1983, the work was recently republished, and this provided an opportunity for the composer to amend, or as it turned out, virtually rewrite the entire score, retaining only fragments of the original version and adding fresh framing material. In Flight Music preserves the four-movement plan of the 1983 version, whilst including a connection with flight, a long-standing interest of Cowie’s. Hence, the first two movements (‘Hang-Gliders’, Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia’ and ‘Vapour Trails’) are concerned with aspects of humans in flight, whilst the last two deal with insects and birds, respectively. All four players were sensitive to the changing moods of Cowie’s piece, from its opening, wide-eyed, almost Dvo?ák-like, soaring melody for the first violin, through the delicately traced patterns of the slow movement and the motoric scherzo, to the wide-ranging, multi-textured finale. This composer’s renowned in choral and vocal repertoire has tended to eclipse his accomplishments in other fields; on the strength of this fluent and inventive 22-minute example, he has an intuitive grasp of the medium’s traditions and potential.
In the last instalment their ‘Beethoven Begins’ series on 12 November 2013, the quartet gave the world premiere of Michael Finnissy’s Civilisation for string quartet. Unfortunately I was unable to attend this concert, but the intricacy, intensity and refined beauty of Finnissy’s passionately eclectic 20-minute piece may be head of Peter Sheppard Sk?rved’s website.
Contemporary scores have rarely sounded so at home amongst staples of the Austro-German repertoire, and the Kreutzer’s fervent advocacy of both musics in equal measure goes some way to explaining the persuasiveness of their commissioning. The quartet’s future seasons at Wilton’s are well worth exploring – in addition to hearing outstandingly high levels of musicianship, you are more than likely to be enchanted by the time-worn grandeur of the surroundings.