Peter Cropper [L]
4 Nov 2012
Navarra Quartet: Beethoven Op 59/2
Doret Quartet Haydn quartet Op 76/2 "Fifths"
The concert floor in the deep basement of King's Place housed a possible record for the string quartet world early evening on Sunday.
Three young string quartets were performing simultaneously within a very few yards of each other, that made possible by the fine new Guardian building, with heavy fire doors etc achieving good sound insulation between the small Wenlock and Limehouse Rooms used regularly by Chamber Studio, and the foyer outside.
Peter Cropper was in charge in one and drove the Navarra Quartet to new levels of intensity in Op 59/2 in a collaborative session of bar by bar exploration, seeking the meaning of every hint in the score.
This 90 mins session (a huge strength of the Chamber Studio format) was far more successful than Cropper's contribution to the Halls' showcase festival in which his imagination was constrained in 45 mins slots. Dialogue flowed in the experimentations, the Navarra's ladies more articulate and physically expressive in their playing gestures; the more taciturn cellist quick to endorse Cropper's assurance that they could take or leave his suggestions.
As if that demanding session wasn't enough, the Navarras (last heard at Conway Hall Sundays with a fairly new line-up) continued after the tea-break with Simon Rowland-Jones [R], exploring Schubert together, R-J sometimes demonstrating ideas on his viola; a lower-key session, but equally stimulating.
One will listen to both those Beethoven & Schubert quartets quite differently in the future, and I am keen to hear the Navarras again next time this widely travelled group is playing in London.
Departing tired the end of a rich day's music (q.v. Bach cantatas at RAM in the morning !) my exit was arrested by finding the deep basement foyer full of people assembling for the regular London Chamber Music Society Sunday evening concert, enjoying an assured and well prepared pre-concert performance of Haydn's "fifths" quartet, given with complete aplomb and style by the four young women of the Doret Quartet, another estimable chamber group quite new to me. Wheels within wheels; the new Peters Edition "Urtext" of Haydn Quartets they were using was edited by Simon Rowland-Jones...
Peter Grahame Woolf
Masterclass with Richard Ireland:
Chamber Studios, King’s Place Sunday, 18 March 2012
On a cold early spring Sunday afternoon in March I found myself listening to one of the Chamber Studio Masterclasses which were founded by distinguished violinist Richard Ireland.
It was a delightful experience in many ways. The intimate venue, at the basement of the King Place, is just big enough to have a few chairs for listeners in a close proximity to the musicians. One could hear every note (even when played pianissimo) and every comment made by the professor. This kind of working environment was undoubtedly beneficial for the students, allowing them to discuss, analyse and try new ideas in a relaxed atmosphere, within the context of an informal performance.
The work chosen by the Lawson Trio was rather a pleasant surprise. A rarely performed Piano Trio by Gaspar Cassadó, one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century, is a spectacular composition, rich in musical ideas and rhythmical variety and vigor. Cassadó, a disciple of Casals, Ravel’s composition student and one of the most prominent figure on the musical scene between 30s and 50s, composed and transcribed a substantial amount of pieces for solo cello, cello and piano, guitar, cello concertos, a piano trio and 3 string quartets. His Suite for Cello Solo (1926) and the Piano Trio (dedicated to Alfredo Casella) are the best known. In both works, the Spanish idiom, fiery flourishes within the austere restraint that produces great tension, combines with the French Impressionistic harmonic palette and an exuberant virtuosity.
Elegant, aristocratic and proud, the composition is infused with the rhythms and melodies of spirited Spanish folk dances. As a formidable virtuoso and a member of the two piano trios (the first in Paris with his father Joaquin and a violinist brother Agustin, and in the early 50s, with Yehudi Menuhin and Louis Kentner) Cassadó knows how to use the instrumental possibilities to the full.
Both violin and cello parts are equal and are often given passages in unison, as if creating a single instrument - a deeply sonorous string hybrid - to express the fullness of the line. Naturally, this presents a challenge to the players, which was met well by the Lawsons. The cellist’s soft tone was blending agreeably with the brighter violin’s sound, sensitively supported by the pianist.
The interpretative side was discussed as extensively as the time allowed - one and a half hours!
The second movement of the Trio requires technical and ensemble mastery to convey the contrasts - not simply in terms of the tempi and dynamics, but in the rapid changes of the mood and perspectives – from a sudden rhythmical burst to a dream-like atmosphere (“mirage in the desert”) that moves towards the climax with a Bolero like pace.
Richard Ireland’s suggestions and encouragement brought the multi-faceted score to life. He was advising, directing and leading the students to find their own answers by stimulating their creative imagery and initiating a lively exchange of ideas. Serious moments were followed by laughter, and the delight of music making was shared by everybody in the room.
[Image L is of the Beckova Sisters CD of Spanish Piano Trios including Caassado's]
Ferenc Rados coaching Bartok, Brahms & Britten
Barbirolli String Quartet; Wu String Quartet & Lawson Piano Trio
This well attended event was different from the usual college master class with but half-an-hour for each student musician. The groups at Kings Place Hall 2 were established professional performers, allotted one and a half hours to each ensemble in a six-hour session (plus a short lunch break).
I was particularly interested to see "Rados" (as he was always called) working with the Lawson Piano Trio on the Brahms Op 8, which they had recently given at Blackheath.
From an onlooker's point of view it seemed a heavy and daunting session for the participants? Rados' way is elliptical, given to sometimes strange analogies and metaphors to suggest what he wants.
The musicians might have felt as if they were being stripped, afterwards having to put themselves together through reflection. Rados worked with them untiringly, obsessively and demandingly, often concentrating on perfecting short passages with individual players for several minutes at a time.
For the Lawsons, given the choice of which movement to begin with, they opted for the first; and never got beyond it ! Their pianist had to repeatedly give way on the piano stool to Rados, himself a fluent pianist, trying to convey at the keyboard what he wanted. The sessions tended to over-run and Richard Ireland, Artistic Director, sitting in the audience, had a struggle to try and keep Rados to the schedule...
The Barbirollis were working on Britten No 1 and the Wus on Bartok No 1, perhaps the one of them all with which Rados had the greatest identification. He worked for long sequences and repetitions with individual players, apologising to the others for doing so, eventually arriving at the phrasings and articulations which he wanted, illustrating their subtleties with some vocal virtuosity, rather like how Indian percussionists vocalise their rhythm language.
An important consideration is the role of the audience at a public session (as with John Henry's masterclasses at Greenwich*)? Rados, standing often close by individual players, spoke and ruminated quietly and intimately, sometimes at little more than a whisper. So the large audience had to accept that we were, as it were, privileged eavesdroppers. I was able to hear but little until I moved to the front row...**
A rewarding day at Kings Place, before leaving (therefore unable to stay for the Belcea Quartet lesson with Rados) to cover another remarkable string quartet event, the Kreutzers at Wilton's in Swedish masterworks and recent English string quartets...
Peter Grahame Woolf
*"John Henry taught on both harpsichord and clavichord in his master class. His fascinating comments, often abstruse and esoteric, were hard for the audience to hear; a radio mic would help next year"
"a Who's Who of British chamber music"
P.S. The Steinbergs (LOUISA STONEHILL and NICHOLAS BURNS) took a public Chamber Studio master class at Kings Place on 18 March for coaching on the Beethoven op 30/3 sonata (which we had heard them play recently at a private recital).
Krysia Osostowicz worked with them, subtly helping to lighten their rather relentless playing by introducing a 'dance' feel to some passages, with a lot of "give and take" in her undogmatic approach.
Very rewarding for listeners who don't know too much about the intricasies of violin technique; everyone benefiting hugely from the relaxed atmosphere and scope for explorations in depth during sessions that are each 1 1/2 hours.