Kohn’s Quartet No 16 – a Twenty-First Century Masterpiece?

15/11/2015

Beethoven, Kohn: The Villiers Quartet, St Andrew’s Psalter Lane Church, Sheffield, 14.11.2015. (JK)

Beethoven: String Quartet Opus 18 no. 6
Kohn: 16th String Quartet
Beethoven: String Quartet op 59 no. 2

The Villiers quartet performed Beethoven’s Opus 18 no. 6 with enormous vitality and precision. Their exquisite ensemble playing made the entire work enjoyable. The dash of the first movement brought immediate smiles between the players as well as the audience. Their sweet tone in the second movement brought instant pleasure whilst the humour of the third movement had the players almost dancing out of their seats. The drama of the opening of the last movement was happily dissipated by the joyous playing that brought the finale to a close. There could have been no better opening to a chamber concert.

Kohn’s 16th Quartet was a huge contrast in its breadth and language. Beginning with a tiny figure in the cello, the first movement gradually built up into a headlong drive that seemed to suffuse the entire work. The second movement’s obvious comedy element rapidly climbed into the instruments’ highest registers that left me wondering where we would be taken next. The answer came from a wonderful viola solo that was taken up by the others into a huge climax that suddenly descended into a sinister figure. Throughout this movement the drive of the first two movements was pressing us forward into the fourth movement whose dance music was evidently enjoyed by the players. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the fifth and final movement. Performed pianissimo throughout, the slow moving figures cast a mesmeric effect across the entire audience. After the concluding softest of soft chords, the audience sat, transfixed in total silence for nearly half a minute. The quartet and the attending composer took well-deserved, prolonged applause.

The Beethoven Opus 59 no. 2 performed after the interval was, despite its excellent presentation, something of an anticlimax. The ominous opening was given a veiled feeling whilst the second movement showed Beethoven ruminating to himself. The only way that this movement can be pulled off is by the players speaking to one another whilst we, in the audience, are given the opportunity to overhear the conversation. The Villiers managed this although it was occasionally difficult to understand whether it was the composer reflecting to himself or the players puzzling their way through this ambiguous movement. The uncertainties of the third movement with its cross rhythms was given a spirited performance that led into a bright performance of the finale. The generous tone and concision provided for this last movement gave the music a degree of certainty that may have occluded some of the feeling of the composer searching, rather than discovering, any answers.

As I left the hall along with other members of the audience, I could see Ray Kohn going backstage – no doubt to congratulate the Villiers on their wonderful performance of his work – and I overheard many members of the audience talking amongst themselves about what they had heard. Over and over again they spoke about that amazing final movement of Kohn’s 16th quartet. I left feeling that I had perhaps witnessed a most unusual event – the birth of a 21st century masterpiece.

Joseph Kovaks

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra at St John’s Smith Square’s 2017 Christmas Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Spitalfields Music Festival 2017 in December __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere of The Nutcracker and I, by Alexandra Dariescu in December at Milton Court __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! I Musicanti’s ‘Alexandra and the Russians’ at St Johns Smith Square, 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • UPDATED! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • NEW! Carly Paoli is ‘Singing My Dreams’ at the Cadogan Hall in February 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • NEW! Twelve Years of Celebrating Malcolm Arnold in Northampton __________________________________
  • NEW! What is the Critic’s Job? A Review of A. O. Scott’s Recent Book __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival in Yorkshire Lifts the Lid Off an English Treasury __________________________________
  • NEW! A FULLY STAGED PILGRIM’S PROGRESS IN ORLEANS, MA __________________________________
  • NEW! JIŘÍ BĔLOHLÁVEK (1946-2017) AND THE CZECH CONDUCTING LEGACY __________________________________
  • NEW! JUSTIN DOYLE DISCUSSES MONTEVERDI WITH MARK BERRY __________________________________
  • NEW! Katie Lowe Wins the 2017 Elizabeth Connell Prize __________________________________
  • NEW! ITINÉRAIRE BAROQUE 2017: TON KOOPMAN TALKS TO COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House in Mumbai is Restored to its Former Glory __________________________________
  • NEW! iSING! – International Young Artists Festival in Suzhou, China __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H