The curious thing about a quartet that comprises violin, clarinet, viola and cello is that the clarinet vies with the violin for the position of “first violin”. As a departure from the traditional roles within a more standard string quartet one is presented with completely different dynamics from the two treble instruments. I loved the interweaving and swapping of the roles and personally thought this was a very successful arrangement.
The first piece was in fact an arrangement of a quartet of Haydn’s or to be more accurate four movements from four different quartets with a few extras thrown into the mix. The programme notes refer to the skilful inclusion of another theme from yet another quartet during the first movement. The arrangement was done by a family member, Vincenzo Gambaro from Genoa, for the highly regarded clarinettist of the time, Giovanni Gambaro, and published in 1810 by Giovanni who was the owner of a publishing firm in Paris.
The clarinettist took a break for the delightful Schubert string trio. The 1816 Schubert work exists as a movement of a possibly bigger work with more movements. The substantial work by Hummel was in a sense the central pillar for this concert being specifically written for clarinet quartet and probably being the foremost work for this line-up. The second movement of the Hummel is entitled La Seccatura which translates roughly to nuisance. This is most likely due to the four different time signatures on each instruments part meaning that no one has the same number of bars. The music however does not seem at all polyrhythmic to the listener’s ears so that the whole idea is most likely a joke of the composers at the performers’ expense. One can imagine them rehearsing and trying to find the same point from which to start in the middle of the movement!
The Andante of this work was put as the third movement rather than the more traditional second place. In the key of A flat it produced sonorities on the period instruments that were at times muted, other times darker in tonal colour and then sometimes delightfully warm in texture. This movement gives the clarinettist some lovely moments with the violinist joining in to create some lovely interweaving melodic textures.
An encore was played after much enthusiastic applause (fourth movement of Franz Krommer’s Quartet in Bb, op 83 – Rondo) and was played with great joie d’Esprit and élan.
This was a concert to delight the senses with exquisite playing from all the musicians. While there was exemplary playing from all, I was particularly struck by the unity between the two treble instruments with many unison passages displaying a fusion of sound that I would not have believed possible between violin and clarinet. I was left with the feeling that I could not hear where one instrument’s sound began or ended within the mix. There were many times when the solo role was passed to either of the two lower strings and the manner that these solos stood out was as much due to the treble instruments accompanying with delicacy and good taste as to the wonderful playing of the lower instruments. This was also evident when the violin played “second fiddle” to the clarinet and I noted the bow control that produced lovely veiled sounds that were present, but allowed the clarinet to shine. This repertoire is highly translucent and needs to be very delicately handled. That is was done so throughout the entire concert is a tribute to the careful crafting of each individual musician uniting in a unity of purpose that transcends the four individual musicians. Space does not permit me to go off in lengthy raptures, but there were so many lovely moments in this concert!
One thing I noticed that amused me was Michael Dahlenburg who was wearing black framed glasses which he kept pushing back up with one finger raised from the finger board whilst playing with the other fingers or pushing his face on to his left hand. I thought this was quite dexterous being done in the middle of playing.
Amusement aside, do watch this group and support them in their future concerts as you will not be disappointed.
Nicole van Bruggen – clarinet
Rachel Beasley – violin
Viola – Simon Oswell
Violoncello – Michael Dahlenburg