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RTE Vanbrugh Quartet Wilton's Music Hall, 18 June 2003
Haydn String Quartet Op 77 No 1 in G major
Jonathan Dove Out of Time (London premiere)
Beethoven String Quartet Op 59 No 2 in E minor 'Rasumovsky'

Trinity Baroque & Fretwork Wilton's Music Hall, 19 June

Two evenings of paradoxes, demonstrating how many factors can influence one's response to musical events.

I always look forward to Haydn quartets - they are all so ingenious and there are too many for repletion to dull receptivity. I feared, though, that I had heard the Beethoven Rasumovsky quartets too many times recently, and was not looking forward to Op 59/2 yet again.

And the venue, as always, played its part - especially where one is sat. In 'good' central seats we found the RTE Vanbrugh Quartet from Cork, one of our favourite ensembles, strident and harsh at Wilton's Music Hall as they drove through Op 77/1 (the one with the slow march to begin which the Amadeus always made so specially delectable). Were the players uncomfortable and unsettled too? Probably they had never been to Wilton's before. From where and when had they arrived on that platform? All those variables figure; we'll never know the answers.

Retreated under the side balconies to dampen the direct sound, Jonathan Dove's Out of Time, six short movements in memorial tribute to a lively character, was urbane and pleasing; not quite unforgettable - very nicely crafted; a good 'contemporary' foil to break up a standard programme without likely pain for string quartet audiences.

Then after the interval, Beethoven took off and hooked us, so that once again we wished ourselves nowhere else. The Vanbrughs gave their all, technically assured and confident, the cross rhythms in the third movement a particular delight. All was right with the world again; no encore, and the audience departed content, as we did.

Huguenot Voices with Julian Podger's Trinity Baroque supported by the viols of Fretwork promised well, and satisfied a large audience. A nice programme of music by Le Jeune, de l'Estocart etc, lasting about an hour and a quarter but, in the dark in cramped uncomfortable seats, feeling longer. There was considerable confusion about what items or composer we were hearing, because the lights were dim at first, and practically extinguished later, seemingly for dubious 'artistic reasons'. So those of us who battled through the rush-hour and did not arrive early had little chance to read Clifford Bartlett's informative programme notes, nor possibility to follow the (mostly gloomy) words of the various items, some of which were supplied in a booklet (sold separately); that problem further compounded because some of the texts were not sung at all. We were urged not to applaud till the end (not even the new commissioned work). The young singers looked as if they loved singing this music, but the very experienced violists were as dour to watch as can dampen events in the early music world. Perhaps the faded charms of Wilton's Music Hall need the excitement of theatrical activity on stage to bring the place back to life?

© Peter Grahame Woolf