Exciting Music-Making from the Marmen Quartet at the Fringe

10/08/2019

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 [2] – ROSL Roundup: Royal Overseas League at the Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh, 9.8.2019. (SRT)

Marmen Quartet (c) Marco Borggreve

The death-knell seems finally to have tolled for the Edinburgh headquarters of the Royal Overseas League at 100 Princes Street. For several reasons connected with an astronomical repair bill, the venerable building has closed its doors permanently and is up for sale. That means that the worthy ROSL Arts programme has also had to find a new home and, for the second year in a row, they have relocated to the Royal Scots Club in the New Town, in what one can only imagine will become a permanent move.

It is not a bad venue for their concerts, featuring young artists at the outset of their careers. As I remarked last year, though, the room in which they perform is fairly constrained with, in particular, a low ceiling that concentrates the sound, and there aren’t many performers who get to the stage of tailoring their sound effectively to the space. Pianist Florian Mitrea, who really impressed me last year with a superb Liszt Sonata, wasn’t one of them, and much of his Chopin programme strained my ears with its sheer volume! His first Scherzo felt insistent to the point of aggression, and the fistfuls of notes even produced some occasional clumsiness. Things settled down with his set of Nocturnes, however, particularly the lovely, flowing melody of No.15, and the last of his set of Études (No.24) seemed finally to have settled into the room’s acoustic, or maybe I had merely tuned in enough by then. It is a shame, because his playing is very impressive, and the highlight for me was the slow opening of the Andante spianato, which flowed beautifully, even if much of the ensuing Polonaise brillante was slightly ear-splitting again.

The welcoming sound of a string quartet suits the acoustic better, though the Marmen Quartet went in hard at the start of their concert of Mozart’s K.387. Things quickly settled down, though, and I enjoyed their conversational approach to the piece, with a genuine cantabile slow movement and a lovely sense of to-and-fro to the finale. However, this was just a curtain-raiser to a stunning performance of Ligeti’s quartet, a daring repertoire choice that paid off triumphantly. Ligeti’s austere transparency borders on asceticism at times, but this held no terrors for this young group, and they laid bare the composer’s complementary lines with the style and panache that you would associate with groups that have been in the business for far longer than them. As a piece, it’s by turns troubling, compelling, exciting and humorous, and I loved every white-knuckle moment.

It is also a vindication of what these ROSL recitals achieve. The artists, I assume, are given the choice of what they would like to perform, but that produces a broad range of variety that, in the Marmen Quartet at least, produced the most exciting music-making I have heard all week; and for Edinburgh in August that’s saying a lot.

Simon Thompson

The ROSL Arts programme continues at the Fringe until Friday 16th August. For full details click here. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs until the end of August at venues across the city. For full details click here.

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