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Berio, Cutler & Maconchy

Elizabeth Maconchy String Quartet No.13 (Quartetto Corto)
Joe Cutler Folk Music for string quartet (London premiere)
Luciano Berio (Quartetto III) Notturno

Barbirolli String Quartet

PLGYA at Purcell Room, London 9 January 2008

This forty minutes recital was one of the best in this year's PLGYA series. The Barbirolli String Quartet had been noticed in unusual circumstances - the Barbican foyer MostlyMozart07 - where they had impressed with the rapport amongst themselves and with the peripatetic audience. Those assets were evident at the Purcell Room together with a zestful enjoyment of music making and frequent eye contact to ensure impeccable ensemble. Maconchy's concise 13th quartet is one of her shorter examples of a major body of work that will ensure her lasting importance; every quartet consider them for their repertoires. It was followed by a short but hugely entertaining piece by Cutler, which seemed determined to ring all possible changes on a very few chords.

Berio's 3rd quartet (1956), which plays continuously for around 25 mins, is a work of exquisite beauty, new to me. This quartet alternates its violinists, as do the Emersons. Rakhi Singh took the leader's chair for Maconchy and Cutler, exchanging with Katie Stillman for the long Notturno, one of Berio's most important and accessible chamber works, in which the quartet seems to breathe as a whole, with some players holding the central texture whilst others may embroider it - "full of silence", of "unspoken words and fragmentary conversations" (Berio). Hauntingly memorable.

Looking at their website, I am glad to see that the Barbirolli String Quartet have several bookings around London in the Spring, with a well balanced repertoire; I hope that they will retain in it all three of these works specially worked up to meet PLG's requirements.

Peter Grahame Woolf