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Greenwich International String Quartet Festival

Carducci String Quartet, Wihan Quartet, Kopelman Quartet, Smith Quartet & student quartets etc

Trinity Laban Conservatoire, London, 29 April–1 May 2011

Student composers, players and dancers from these two colleges combined to showcase their work together in an over-ambitious show at the National Maritime Museum, before a large attendance, mostly of visitors to the Museum who chanced upon it.

Unfortunately the seating arrangements were such that sight lines were poor and only children at the front, and a few of us standing at the sides, could see properly the peripatetic goings on!

I hope there will be more regular collaborations with TCM at Laban's Bonnie Bird Theatre?

The main festival of concerts and masterclasses made for a lively scene and a very busy weekend; especially with a multitude of juniors at the College on Saturday morning !

I enjoyed sampling masterclasses by members of the Smith Quartet (Smetana No.1 & Debussy) for competitors in the Cavatina Intercollegiate Quartet Competition, which was won by the Daimon Quartet from London's Royal Academy.

The Wihan Quartet's evening concert was to their guaranteed highest standard - besides the Dvorak "calling card"- (the one which in my youth - before political correctness - was known as the Ni--er quartet) there were less unfamiliar quartets, Schumann 2 & Smetana 2, neither of which deserve their relative neglect. The Wihans have recorded both of Smetana's.

The Smith Quartet (their violist Nic Pendlebury is Head of Strings at Trinity) and the Kopelman Quartet and shared a full Sunday evening.

Before the Smiths brought this successful and very well attended festival to a conclusion with a programme of mainly minimalist miniatures from their latest disc Dance [signum sigcd236], we were privileged to hear the Kopelman Quartet of Russian veterans.

Graduates of the Moscow Conservatoire in the '70s, they had come together as recently as 2002 to found the Kopelman Quartet, having pursued separate careers for twenty-five years.

Their riveting account of Tchaikovky's 2nd Quartet (included in the live DVD of Tchaikovsky & Stravinsky on sale there, filmed with fixed position cameras and good sound) was a worthy culmination of a memorable weekend's great music making.

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. The Kopelmans at Wigmore Hall

Tchaikovsky & Schubert on WHLive 00109

Wigmore Hall is experiencing pressure at its concerts with difficulty to accommodate some of its regular and longest-term reviewers (including ourselves)- Wigmore seems to have become too large to manage - - too successful for its own good ,writes one of our correspndents - so it is helpful to have the WHLive recording of Tchaikovsky's 3rd, and arguably finest, string quartet, which reinforces our reaction to hearing the four illustrious Kopelmen in Greenwich, and acquiring there their DVD of the Tchaikovsky No 2 quartet.

Wigmore Hall has an expert recording team which creates archive recordings of most of their events, from which a selection are taken for their in-house commercial label.

This notable Wigmore Hall concert from 2006 includes also a major Schubert Quartet, his Death & the Maiden D 810, the feeling of a live event enhanced (though not to0 everyone's taste) by audience applause. It can be obtained from Wigmore Hall or on iTunes.


Carducci Quartet

Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich 29 April 2011

Most musicians are reliant on hand-outs. The biennial London String Quartet Festival at Trinity College of Music at Greenwich certainly deserves its luck in receiving a generous grant from the Arts Council. Those present at the opening concert last Friday would have understood completely their support.

At the opener, the Carducci Quartet plays Haydn’s Joke Quartet, Mendelssohn’s F minor Quartet (his swansong) and Schubert’s Quintet in C (his too) in the Royal Naval College Chapel. The light, lustrous acoustic loves their strings. First violin Matthew Denton doubles the bounce with each repeat in the first movement, his right leg springing from the ground with joyful, ‘and again’ impetus. Perhaps a little more cello might give the finale a greater sense of the delirious dance, but the way in which the players flourish their bows at each of the false endings and fool the majority of the audience wins genuine laughter .

Denton controls Mendelssohn‘s last quartet like a magician, setting a feverish first movement temperature, grading the thrilling accelerando like a jockey picking his moment for the charge. In Schubert’s Quintet after the interval, cellist Mrs Denton gains an ally in Vanessa Lucas-Smith and together they oppose the fiddles, the viola acting as referee. In a serene, almost bitter adagio, second cello looses pizzicato darts at first violin who swishes them back with slow legato strokes. The grinding drones in the third movement throb with coarse, peasanty appeal and the pianissimo achieved in the trio whispers of heaven.

The Carducci Quartet, visiting artists-in-residence at Trinity College of Music, is a strongly led, witty, highly professional ensemble with engagements all over the world. The competitive tensions which must exist in a foursome comprising two married couples are barely apparent. The London String Quartet Festival should book them for 2013 immediately.

Rick Jones