Concert Review

Coull Quartet
Huntingdon Hall, Worcester
18 May 2012

An Espressivo promotion

The Coull Quartet: Roger Coull & Philip Gallaway (violins), Rose Redgrave (viola) and Nicholas Roberts (cello) performed a most uplifting programme as one of Espressivo’s promotions.

Central to the concert and of particular interest to local musicians was Partita for String Quartet (2009) ‘Homage to Thomas Tomkins’ by Malvern composer Derek Smith, in which he draws on stylistic ideas and fragments of Tomkins’s compositions. (Tomkins, director of music at Worcester Cathedral for more than half a century, composed in a wide variety of forms – much was for the church as well as madrigals and keyboard pieces.)

A rousing opening chord introduced threads of melody in canon before converging in harmonic phrases. As the music progressed the violins danced above plucking viola and cello, all engaging in beautiful counterpoint – with some superb pianissimo on the way. Continuing, we heard boldly resounding pizzicato by cello and viola while the violins sang in duet which developed into a rich tapestry of polyphonic ensemble with the cellist penetrating through in rising figures. Three more emphatic chords and the cellist emerged strongly again making the ground bass line evident always, and to engage with the others in long polyphonic phrases. The superb quality of transparency with each instrumental line heard clearly was achieved effectively before proceeding to a finale of spectacular chording and plucking.

Many congratulations to Derek. His idiomatic and intellectual approach in composing this work is admirable; it is a most pleasurable and interesting piece to listen to.

Schubert’s Quartettsatz in C minor D 703 had made a cheerful, melodious start to the concert, followed by String Quartet No 1 in C Op 49 by Shostakovich. The first movement featured some clever spiccato rhythm by the violist and an ‘agonising’ melody from the violins; the second heard the first violin singing a haunting solo threnody with the pizzicato of the cellist. Of the closing two allegros, the first danced in jaunty harmonies with a capricious first violin ascending on high, the second was a joyful frolic.

In conclusion, the quartet performed Beethoven’s String Quartet in E minor Op 59 No 2 ‘Rasumovsky’. Questioning phrases of the Allegro, punctuated by chords produced very expressive playing and the exquisite delivery of Molto Adagio with its wonderful lilting melody and poignant chords was played with tenderness and created a stunning ethereal mood. Scherzo, accented and syncopated, caught the dancing spirit and Presto galloped along in exuberance with a most effective pause mid-way before speeding off again!

It had been a thoroughly enjoyable concert!

Jill Hopkins

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