Dante Quartet Presents New Cellist at Summer Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Britten, Boccherini, Telemann, Schnittke, Mozart: Dante Quartet – Krysia Osostowicz & Giles Francis (violins), Rachel Roberts (viola) & Richard Jenkinson (cello) with the Dante Festival Orchestra, Stephen Stirling & Jacob Row (horns), St Paul’s Church, Yelverton. UK 10.7.2012 (PRB)

Britten: Three Divertimenti for String Quartet
: Movements from Viola, and Horn Concertos
: Adagio from Cello Concerto in G
: Moz-Art, for two violins
: Boisterous Bourée, from Simple Symphony, Op 4
: Divertimento No. 15 for 2 horns & strings in B flat (‘Lodron’ Serenade No 2), K 287 (K 271H)

The Tamar Valley takes its name from the river, which separates the two most westerly counties in South West England, Devon and Cornwall. The valley extends north from the broad estuary at Plymouth to the intricate, deeply-incised river meanders just below Launceston and Tavistock. It borders Dartmoor National Park to the east and takes in Kit Hill to the west, and is famous for its mining-heritage landscape.

As such, then, it might seem an unlikely venue for one of the UK’s top string quartets to present an annual summer festival, but the London-based Dante Quartet has given an outstanding programme of concerts, open rehearsals and workshops in the area since 2004 and the festival has, in fact, now become one of the highlights of the Dantes’ year. The 2012 festival also presents new cellist, Richard Jenkinson, who recently took over from the legendary Bernard Gregor-Smith who, after seven years with the Dantes, and a previous forty with the legendary Lindsays, has now decided to take a well-earned break from quartet-playing. Gregor-Smith, however, returns at the close of the festival, as the second cellist in Schubert’s Quintet.

Even if the unseasonal weather didn’t quite confirm that this was the start of the ninth annual Dante Summer Festival, the opening concert certainly had a summery feel to the programme, enhanced by the church’s bright and airy aura, set in a large village some ten miles north of Plymouth, on the south-western edge of Dartmoor.

Given its apparent lukewarm reception, Britten’s Three Divertimenti for String Quartet clearly didn’t impress the audience at its first performance by the Stratton Quartet (later to become the Aeolian Quartet) at London’s Wigmore Hall in 1936. The composer later wrote in his diary that they were received with ‘sniggers and cold silence’. As a consequence, he withdrew them and they were not revived until after his death. While, almost eighty years later, the reaction from the packed church was only marginally more enthusiastic, the work, intended as a humorous offering but seen from a child’s perspective,proved the perfect appetiser for the delights to follow.

The Festival is not just about the Dante Quartet, but also boasts its own orchestra, drawn mainly from local schools in the area, and who provided a sure-footed accompaniment as quartet-members, Rachel Roberts (viola), Richard Jenkinson (cello), and guest-soloists, Stephen Stirling and sixteen-year-old Jacob Rowe, featured various movements from concerti by Boccherini and Telemann. In the latter, there was a particularly nostalgic connection in that Dante-leader, Krysia Osostowicz, had known and played with Stirling years before, as teenagers, and his co-soloist, Rowe was, in fact, her son.

Emphasising the evening’s decidedly light-hearted feel, which Osostowicz perfectly maintained by her erudite, yet never overlong, spoken introductions, Britten’s Boisterous Bourée, and a show-stopping performance of Schnittke’s decidedly quirky Moz-Art, with fellow-violinist, Giles Francis, preceded the evening’s undoubted highlight, Mozart’s B flat Divertimento for Two Horns and Strings (‘Lodron’ Serenade No 2).

Mozart composed a matching pair of works, the B flat Divertimento, and, exactly a year earlier, the Divertimento in F, K 247, to commemorate the name-day of Countess Maria Antonia Lodron, a family friend and member of the Salzburg aristocracy. Here the playing was of the highest order throughout, and deserving of a special mention fwas the sixteen-year-old Cornish double-bass player, Ted Francis-Smith, from Penzance, for his contribution to an extremely taut, yet eminently expressive, ensemble where the dynamic balance was always finely maintained.


Philip R Buttall