Review: Hieronymus Quartet, German and French Quartets, Ipswich School Festival of Music, Oct 4

Ipswich School Festival of Music

Ipswich School Festival of Music - Credit: Archant

In a joint venture the Ipswich School Music Festival and Ipswich Chamber Music Society presented a concert by the recently formed Hieronymus String Quartet.

The varied backgrounds of the members – Canada, France, South Korea and USA – will have encouraged a wide and youthful vision which was reflected in both programme and performance.

Haydn’s quartet op 76/4 certainly reaped rewards from the players’ approach. If it was not always the most polished Haydn playing, there was plenty of character and vigour, particularly in the rustic-flavoured third movement.

The slow movement was calm and delicately poised with sweet and secure high notes from the first violin and the outer movements were confident and purposeful.

In the first movement of Beethoven’s final quartet the fragmented character of the music was suitably emphasised, the viola’s opening phrase briskly cut short and the players worked well together to deliver a convincing reading.

An awkward moment in the second movement was soon forgotten in the hectic swirl and the slow movement was given a performance worthy of the wonderful music.

The main theme unfolded seamlessly over a secure harmonic base and the searching chordal shifts later in the movement made their full impact.

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The finale, with its insistent, repeated chords, is not easy to bring off but the quartet’s confidence and elan were well suited to the task and the composer’s last words on the medium were perfectly captured.

Before the final work, cellist Vladimir Waltham gave a few short but incisive words about Debussy’s quartet, neatly incorporating the Franco-Prussian War and the composer’s hostility to Germany and its culture. Certainly the players’ understanding of the nuances of Debussy’s writing enabled the work to emerge as a powerful reaction to the Austrian-German tradition.

There was a real depth to the combined sound and the shifting harmonies of the first movement seemed to presage passages in La Mer, still a decade away. The lively second movement recalled Parisian life at its most vivacious, the pizzicatos dancing off the sunlit Seine. The languorous slow movement breathed the air of the Prelude a l’apres Midi, composed at around the same time, rich and sensual.

After the breathless ending we were offered the choice of a repeat of the second or third movement.

On this occasion the encore proved more coherent and worthwhile than is often the case and these gifted players found an extra degree of warmth and subtlety that bought the concert to a particularly satisfying conclusion. These are players of considerable ability and intelligence; as a quartet they have a great future ahead of them.

Gareth Jones

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