Ferocity and Imagination in Kohn’s Revelatory New String Quartet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven, Kohn, Shostakovich: Northern String Quartet; [Nikolas Gjylaci and Joy Becker (violins), Laurie Dempsey (viola), Joshua Lynch (cello), St Andrew’s, Sheffield, 9.11.2014. (JRK).

Beethoven: String Quartet, Op.18, No. 1
Kohn: String Quartet No 12,
Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8:


I got a pleasant shock this evening. A new music festival was launched and I was half expecting it to be a bit of a half hearted affair. Instead there were three superb performances by the four young players comprising the Northern string quartet; Nikolas Gjylaci and Joy Becker violins, Laurie Dempsey viola and Joshua Lynch cello.

The setting was St. Andrew’s Psalter Lane and, in all honesty, this provided a far finer chamber music setting than the famous Crucible Studio. It was airy and light with a soft but resonant acoustic assisted by the carpeted floor and soft-backed chairs. The opening work was Beethoven’s opus 18 number 1. Despite a few tiny smudged runs in the first movement, the quartet played with such gusto that by the time the more sombre slow movement arrived the audience seemed to be fully convinced by the music. Lovely playing of the slow movement was followed by a sparkling account of the scherzo and a convincingly athletic allegro finale.

The second work was a revelation. A local composer, Ray Kohn, was having his 12th string quartet premiered. The ferocity of the first movement had me sitting on the edge of my chair. The wonderful middle movement seemed to tell a story beyond words. The extraordinary four-part fugue in the finale whose 5/4 time signature kept listeners guessing and off-balance was an amazing flight of imagination. The power of the entire work overshadowed even the opening Beethoven! I would dearly like to hear more of Ray Kohn’s works performed.

After the interval, the Remembrance Sunday concluded appropriately with Shostakovich’s 8th quartet. It is rare to hear such young players perform this profound, autobiographical work with such tenderness. The composer himself would have been moved by this account. The audience were gripped and I went home delighted that to have discovered a wonderful venue for great chamber music.

Joseph Ray Kovaks

Leave a Comment