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Concert No 4

8pm Saturday 1st December 2018
at Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre


Aurea String Quartet

Emma Oldfield (Violin), Rosemary Attree (Violin),
Christine Anderson (Viola) and Abby Hayward (Cello)


Resident RNCM String Quartet   

  “A magnetic performance” - Glasgow Herald

Aurea String Quartet     

The programme notes for this concert are:

String Quartet in G major Op.18 No.2
by Ludwig van Beethoven 1770 – 1827
I: Allegro      II: Adagio Cantabile      III: Scherzo; Allegro      IV: Allegro molto, quasi presto

Beethoven turned to string quartet composition comparatively late in his career, and very hesitantly. His first prompting to write for this medium came in 1795 from an art loving Viennese nobleman, Count Apponyi.

The string quartet allowed Beethoven the full expression of his genius, even more so than the symphony or piano sonata. The great series of seventeen quartets was begun at approximately the same time as the First Symphony (1799) and ended well after the composition of the Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.111 (1822). It was the unlimited freedom of the four-stringed instruments, their complete independence, their supple grace, their intimacy - not necessarily excluding violence - that permitted Beethoven to reach his fullest development.

The history of the composition of the Op.18 quartets is not clearly known. Most of the work on them was completed in the period 1798 - 1800 and they were dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz.

** The second of the Op.18 set as published in 1801 was probably the third of the set to be composed and shows how Beethoven had absorbed many of Haydn's approaches to quartet writing – witty and good humoured, classically civil, but also robust and full of invention, wearing its learning lightly.

The first movement opens with a series of little two-bar phrases which together make the delightful and convincing 8 bar sentence of the first subject, from its opening flourish on the first violin and its dotted rhythm reply, to the decisive crotchets and skipping semiquavers which lead into the second subject. This starts in rather a four square kind of way but leads through in a series of accompanying staccato semiquaver rising scales to a more rhythmically varied off-beat sequence. The exposition is rounded off by recalling one of the phrases of the opening, so that it leads effortlessly back either to its repeat or onto the development. This is more serious, leading eventually to a passage using the dotted rhythm of the opening sentence, but now given a mysterious feel by using fugal textures to work through a variety of keys until the little semiquaver phrases seem to lose their way. But the decisive crotchets return to usher in the recapitulation as the cello first, and then the two upper strings take up the opening flourish now accompanied by more assertive quavers. All proceeds on classical lines until the coda which looks back to the elements of the opening sentence, finally shutting the door quietly on the movement.

The stately opening of the slow movement sees all the instruments moving together, with the first violin quickly taking on a solo role, elaborating the melodic line. This serene mood does not last for long, as the movement plunges into an allegro of scurrying semiquavers, all based on the closing cadential phrase of the first section. The allegro having played itself out, the movement returns to the opening, this time with the cello joining the first violin in its elaboration.

The Scherzo is playful and witty as the instruments toss the opening phrase and its answer between them. The trio section starts more soberly, but soon breaks out into running triplets that keep up the good humour until the upper strings re-introduce the opening motif of the Scherzo and its repeat.

Part rondo, part sonata form, the last movement flows effortlessly along, its Haydnesque opening constantly reinventing itself in a variety of guises – dramatically in a minor key, or making an appearance in unexpected keys. This is Beethoven writing to entertain his listeners, bringing the work to a confident close.

** This part of the programme note is provided by Janet Upward, January 2012 from the Making Music Programme Note Bank.

Previous performance at HCMS concerts by the Coull String Quartet on 14th November 1998.

 

Three Idylls H67**
by Frank Bridge 1879 – 1941
i. Adagio molto espressivo      ii. Allegretto poco lento      iii. Allegro con moto

Frank Bridge has an apt name. His compositions do represent a bridge in the British 20th-century musical revival, between the creative traditionalists Elgar and Vaughan Williams and the modernist generation Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten.

Written in 1906 in a romantic phase the pieces were prompted by the Royal College of Music's Cobbett Prize for a fantasy chamber work. Bridge, a noted violin and viola player himself, excelled in this genre and won the prize three times between 1905 and 1910. The word Idyll is variously interpreted, from the musical equivalent of pastoral poem, even evoking a mood of ideal contentment, to a somewhat dubiously attributed origin in Greek, meaning a short piece. Short these three pieces certainly are. Each piece has a ternary structure: A-B-A.

The first piece, the longest, is Adagio Molto Espressivo in C minor, romantic, deeply, sometimes darkly emotional, relieved by a brighter lyrical middle section in D major, allegretto moderato e rubato, before hesitations and a reversal to adagio in the last section.

The second, very short piece is Allegretto Poco Lento Con Tenerezza: a beautiful variegated dreamy waltz with Ravelian touches and a foretaste of new tonal writing. The subtle, tender theme of the middle section was chosen by Benjamin Britten for his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, written in 1937 in tribute to the perceptive man who had recognised and fostered his extraordinary gifts from their very first meeting when Britten was only fourteen years old.

The third piece is a vigorous, rhythmic Allegro Con Moto in a more traditional tone language – touches of Elgar or Brahms? brilliantly written in a highly concentrated ternary form, and ending with a flourish of a coda.

** Frank Bridges works have been catalogued by Paul Hindmarsh in his publication Frank Bridge; A Thematic Catalogue (1983).

Programme notes provided by Bromsgrove Concerts, October 1994.

First performance at HCMS concerts.

 

Fratres
by Arvo Pärt b. 1935

Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer who composes in the minimalist style. He composed the Mozart-Adagio for Piano Trio in 1992. It is based on the slow movement from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F Major, K.280.

Fratres (Brothers) is a composition in Pärt’s* ‘Tintinnabuli’ style of composition. It was composed in 1977, without fixed instrumentation and has been described as a “mesmerising set of variations” on a six-bar theme combining frantic activity and sublime stillness that encapsulates Pärt’s observation that ‘the instant and eternity are struggling within us’.

* Pärt’s ‘Tintinnabuli’ style of composition which he defined as: “Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises – and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. . . . The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”

First performance at HCMS concerts.

 

String Quartet No.12 in F Major Op.96, American
by Antonin Dvořák 1841 - 1904
I: Allegro ma non troppo      II: Lento      III: Molto vivace      IV: Vivace ma non troppo

In September 1892 Dvorák took up his duties as Director of the American National Conservatory of Music in New York. The following June he went to spend the summer visiting the small farming community of Spillville, Iowa, the home of Czech immigrants who preserved there the language, customs and culture of their homeland. In a mood of quiet relaxation there he sketched this quartet in the six days between 5 and 11 June 1892 and it was first played by Dvorák and three students on 23 June. It instantly became one of his most popular works. Although initially earning the nickname "Nigger", it became known as "The American" in more enlightened times. There is some controversy over whether Dvorák actually used Indian or native American tunes, but the general feeling is that he absorbed the feel of folk music, both European and American, in forming his own unique gift of melody.

The Allegro begins with a jaunty viola tune against a shimmering background, with the second subject a more tentative and restrained theme from the first violin. Both are based on the five-tone pentatonic scale (the black keys of the piano) which is a common basis for many of the world's folk tunes. The development is devoted to the first theme until a fugato, based on the second subject, leads to the restatement of both.

The slow movement is one of Dvorák's most heartfelt melodies, mainly on first violin and 'cello, with second violin and viola keeping up a busy flowing accompaniment. The movement is like an arch, building gradually to an impassioned climax before fading to a subdued close on the 'cello.

The Scherzo is a vigorous piece which features a theme adapted by Dvorák from actual birdsong he heard in the woods of Iowa, said to be that of the Scarlet Tanager.

The rhythmic pattern of the Finale has been likened to Indian drumming, around which the first violin dances a joyful tune. This is followed by a string of high spirited melodies and then there is a chorale-like tune. After this, a shortened restatement of what came before leads to a resolute, cheerful ending.

Programme notes provided by Octagon Music Society, February 1992 from the Making Music Programme Note Bank.

Previous performances at HCMS concerts by the Lindsay String Quartet on 6th January 1979 and by the Royal String Quartet on the 22nd November 2008. The first movement was played by the Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet on 20th January 2018.

 

 

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