Accordion Music and Two New String Quartets in an Art Gallery

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Vale of Glamorgan Festival 3 – Sørensen, Boden, Lindberg, Hudry: Andreas Borregard (accordion), Tana Quartet, Bay Art Gallery, Cardiff, 13.5.2016. (PCG)

Bent SørensenLooking on darkness

Mark David Boden – String Quartet ‘Forgotten time’   (world première)

Magnus Lindberg Jeux d’anches

David Hudry AnamorphosisFragments   (world première)

This hour-long chamber concert was given in a new venue for the Festival, the resonant wood-lined art gallery attached to the Bay Arts studios. This proved to be an excellent location for the music, although seating accommodation was limited and additional chairs had to be provided just before the recital began. The second world première of a work by Mark David Boden in two days was given in the shape of his String Quartet, which once again demonstrated the composer’s willingness (and ability) to fashion a melodically memorable theme which bound the one-movement work together. The music was based on memories of the composer’s childhood, with quixotic changes of mood; it was advertised as being a quarter of an hour in duration, but in fact was some ten minutes longer than that and never seemed to outstay its welcome. The composer was kind enough to let me have a quick scan of the score before the performance, and I observed to him then that he had been cruel in his demands for the players to deliver the whole of the (quite extended) opening section in artificial harmonics. The results in performance were not ideally well integrated – with the best will in the world, the skilful passing of phrases from one instrument to another fragmented the initial perception of the principal theme – but otherwise the players coped superbly with some very vigorous writing, and the ending of the quartet (which on the page certainly seemed to imply a definite B minor tonality) had a sense of subtle disturbance and unquiet which belied anything as blatant as a return to diatonicism. The audience was rightly enthralled.

I find myself in some difficulties however with the other work for string quartet featured on the programme. This seemed to me to consist of a whole series of disconnected effects which succeeded each other with no apparent sense of form or shape, and with never a hint of any memorable thematic material to provide such. In his programme note the composer stated that “my piece aims to propose different listening experiences on identifiable musical gestures or materials by exposing them according to various degrees of deformation.” If this was meant to imply that there was a satirical or parodic intent to the music, this remained obscure; and the composer seemed to have a positive animus against the cello, with the player being instructed to physically attack her instrument percussively in what seemed an unnecessarily violent manner. The best thing that could be said for the result was that it was energetic and never dull, but in the end I was left with an indelible impression of effects without cause. The players were for some reason redistributed on the stage, with the second violinist on the right separated from his colleagues bunched on the left, for no apparent purpose that I could discern. On the other hand the performance certainly deserved commendation for the whole-hearted commitment of the players, and others may have reacted to the music itself differently to me.

In between the two large-scale works for string quartet, Andreas Borregard played two shorter pieces for accordion with a degree of panache which completely vindicated the opinions of those who claim that the instrument deserves greater recognition as a purely classical medium. One certainly does not think of the accordion as an impressionist instrument, but in the hands of an artist like this the opening of Bent Sørrensen’s Looking on darkness conveys a real sense of delicacy and atmosphere as well as an ability to recreate the sounds of nature and other effects (such as the rattling of the keys) which came through excellently in the well-rounded acoustic. After this Magnus Lindberg’s Jeux d’anches sounded more straightforward in terms of its virtuosity, if such playing could ever be described as “straightforward”. In places the organ-like ferocity of the dynamics that Borregard conjured up threatened to out-Messiaen Messiaen. The music fitted the resonance of the venue ideally; the Vale of Glamorgan Festival should return here for chamber concerts in future years.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

In the coming week I shall be reviewing concerts in the Festival from Ensemble MidtVest and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales both of which will feature works not only by Pēteris Vasks but also by John Metcalf, the artistic director of the always adventurous Vale of Glamorgan events, whose seventieth birthday falls this year.


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