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The programme began with a stylish account of Haydn's Quartet Op 20/4, full of life and energy. The first movement was slightly under tempo, yet the sonority was attractively warm and rich with lots of subtle dovetailing between the leader Matthew Denton and second violin Katalin Varnagy. By the second movement they had gained impetus, each variation infused with poise and delicacy, especially the leader's virtuoso figuration and Emma Denton's eloquent cello theme. The ensemble was also superbly coordinated in the Minuet and Trio and bristling finale, with its driving sequences and rich chains of suspensions.

As Graham Whettam explains in his introduction, the musical material of the 4th quartet derives from a single motivic cell stated by the cello at the outset, A, C, G, B, which 'by coincidence' happens to outline the initials of the work's commissioners. Its permutations and contrapuntal transformations are myriad, in the first movement defiant, introduced by cello, in the Scherzo with balletic textures and later inverted, and expressively transformed into a lyrical theme in Passacaglia & Fuga Danzante, with rich lines for all four players especially Graham Broadbent's resonant viola. After a spiky fugue the Passacaglia theme is also inverted. The finale is a fizzing, syncopated Rondo, with exciting textures. The work thus moves from the fierce ira passionata (passionate anger) of the Preludio (Lento), through a more dancing Scherzo and Passacagalia to the Rondo's transformation, in its magical coda, to an elusive questioning conclusion. With its echoes of Shostakovich, Bartók and Britten in the harmonic, rhythmic and tonal idiom, the Carducci conveyed the work's emotional landscape with involvement and conviction. (For a detailed article by the present author about Graham Whettam's music for strings, see Tempo 216, April 2001.)

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Copyright © 16 October 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK




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