United Kingdom Haydn, Kohn, Beethoven: The Cavaleri Quartet, St Andrew’s Psalter Lane Church, Sheffield, 8.11.2015. (JK)
Haydn: Quartet Op 74 no.1
Kohn: Ninth Quartet ‘the Plutarch’
Beethoven: Quartet Op 74 ‘the Harp’
The Cavaleri quartet made an adventurous programme by introducing the premier of a work by the local Sheffield composer, Ray Kohn, between one of Haydn’s six ‘Apponyi’ quartets and the famous ‘Harp’ quartet of Beethoven. From the beginning of the concert, it became obvious that there were two distinct ways of addressing the works. The joyful opening of the first movement of the Haydn was played as if the players were settling into a comfortable dialogue between themselves; then the repeat of the exposition suddenly exploded into an assertive presentation to the audience. The second movement was played with delicacy but it was not until the third movement that they began playing to one another again. And it was this more intimate mode where we were asked to overhear what they were saying to one another that held the attention most effectively.
The Beethoven ‘Harp’ Quartet brought the same problem home most prominently. The quartet played to one another with enormous affection in the first movement. The famous pizzicato ‘harp’ effects were brought out prominently whilst the quartet held the sound balance perfectly throughout. They held us through the adagio movement with some beautiful playing until the extraordinary third movement where Beethoven suddenly transports us to territory to which he only returns in his last quartets. Although the middle parts were not quite together at the very start of this presto movement, the sheer dynamism of the Cavaleri’s performance generated a soundscape that captured the audience’s attention. After such a phenomenal piece of writing, it was Beethoven who had the problem of how to conclude the work. By choosing the established form of theme and variations, he creates a dilemma for the performers. Should they continue where they left off in the presto and speak directly to the audience, or should they return and converse with one another? Unfortunately, the opening of the movement suffers seriously if the players attempt to make the presentation direct. The theme just does not have the weight to make such an impression – especially after the revolutionary presto. Despite a lovely viola melody, the Cavaleris tried too hard to make the opening of this movement anything other than a discourse between themselves that only bursts its bounds at the unison finale. Nonetheless, the triumphant conclusion proved a rousing end to the entire evening.
It was the performance of Ray Kohn’s ‘Plutarch’ Quartet that may have brought the Cavaleris a work that best suited them. It was in the continuous necessity for the parts to speak to one another that seemed to give this work a special place for these players. Throughout the probing first movement, the players passed chiaroscuro ideas between themselves in a playful but nervous discourse. The swift-moving second movement grew lovely melodies and exotic dances out of the ever-changing material. The third movement brought a heavy feel that made the players sway as they forged their way through to the quixotic finale. It was here that the klezmer dance that had made so many appearances was given a terrifying fugal treatment where it tore itself to pieces like in Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’. Throughout this stunningly powerful yet strangely beautiful work, the Cavaleris found the space to talk with one another continuously whilst making the music accessible to us in the audience. The virtuosic Martin Jackson clearly enjoyed the Jewish, klezmer influence and the other players were enthusiastic in their journey through this kaleidoscopic music. It felt as if they were most at home here, despite this being a first performance. And, despite its novelty, the audience were obviously very taken with this work.