REVIEWS: Brighton Festival

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By Andy Warren

Elias String Quatret, The Beethoven Project part 1, All Saints’ Church.

So the Elias String Quartet return to Brighton to continue the Beethoven Project which was such a successful part of last year’s festival. Over three concerts the group will perform nine string quartets from across Beethoven’s career.

The first concert, performed to a packed All Saints’, began with the Quartet in B flat major. This piece from the close of Beethoven’s early period still has the feel of the classic structure of the 18th Century and borrows from Beethoven’s great mentor Haydn but written at the turn of the 19th it looks forward to the new century. One thing I particularly enjoyed about the Elias last year was the crisp bowing and delicate phrasing and these were very much in evidence. I was particularly impressed with Marie Bitloch’s cello which anchored the whole performance.

Speaking of bowing and phrasing , the allegro movement of the second quartet in E minor was especially well handled given that it is such an unsettling work with its odd silences which require the players to be absolutely in time for the effect to work.

My only criticism of the evening has nothing at all to do with the performances but with the choice of venue. String quartets are intelligent and subtle works that they require a more intimate space than a vaulted High Victorian church to do them justice. I found many of the adagio passages got lost in the space, particularly the delicate Malinconia from the B flat major which I had to struggle to hear. Perhaps somewhere like the Music Room of the Pavilion would be more suitable.

By Andy Warren

Elias String Quartet, The Beethoven Project part 2, 17th May 2014, All Saints’ Church

What a magnificent evening’s entertainment was to be had as the Elias String Quartet performed the penultimate concert in their ambitious cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets (or in one case quintet- but more of that later)

Unlike the first concert where the venue often swamped the delicate nature of the works there were no such concerns here as the music swelled and filled the high stone vaults of All Saints’. Even the adagio movements which got lost last time seemed to hang and shimmer in the air in what was a truly magical evening’s music.

We started with Quartet in F major (op 18) and I must particularly mention the adagio affetuoso ed appassionato which is based loosely on the tomb scene from Act 5 scene 3 of Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps on this occasion the gothic setting of a church added to the melancholy of the tragic pulsing music.

The second presentation was the Quintet in C major (op29) and for this guest violist Malin Borman from Sweden joined the players. Composed in 1801 this operatic work had the benefit of an additional viola which added to the richness of the sound particularly in adagio molto espressivo where Donald Grant’s second violin’s pizzicato underscored the other instruments and was not lost in the space.

After the interval we were treated to the quartet in A minor (op 132) which is one of the longest of the concertos coming in as it does at near three quarters of an hour but at no point did the time or the music drag.

As ever with the Elias, the playing was crisp, sharp and highly lyrical and it was clear that the quartet knew they were producing something very special indeed and I look forward to the final concert on the 23rd with immense pleasure.

By Andy Warren

The Tempest in Musick

Friday 16th May 2014

Brighton Dome.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest was revived and amended more than any of his other works during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries and like many Restoration works it was expanded and altered with musick, dances, Devils, Demons and a full chorus until it became a semi-opera in its own right.

Sadly, much of this additional work has been lost over the centuries but conductor David Roblou and the New London Consort have taken the fragments which have survived and have woven them into a palimpsest to give a flavour of what audiences of the time would have enjoyed.

And what a curious and lyrical evening it turned out to be; a magical evocation of high Baroque theatre played on original instruments and beautifully sung with crispness and conviction. Of course, over the centuries all the amendments mean that the production bears little resemblance to Shakespeare’s original but what we have is a glorious Never Never Land full of sprites and fantastick sprites. The fact that all we have is fragments meant that we were treated to range of musical styles from Matthew Locke, Pelham Humfrey and Henry Purcell but this did not lead to a disjointed work but rather a seemless flow of musick and song.

David Roblou’s great skill drove the performance forward with exceptional playing and singing. In particular Anna Dennis’ lyrical and powerful soprano voice was beautifully counterpointed Michael George’s bass-baritone especially during the rousing Masque of Neptune which closed the performance in such a rousing fashion.

This was a wonderful glimpse into the musick and theatre of my favourite period in history and I felt privileged to be in the audience.