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Not only did we hear two intriguing early quartets, but this event came with its own, built-in pre-concert talk. No stuffy, classroom siesta-filler, this, but a lively, semi-dramatised and illustrated presentation that was short, well-paced and expertly delivered. Miller, with spoken help at one point from Galina Tanney, succeeded in setting the historical context of a time in which audiences would crowd around the performers at the end of a concert, admiring the shock of the new.

But not even Beethoven's genius could completely protect the dramatic power of his music from the ravages of time. I sometimes dream of isolating myself completely from modern music for one month, three months ... as long as it would take, to clean my heart and my mind of all modern sounds, patterns, thoughts and feelings, to listen only to music from previous periods, so that I might experience even some small part of that shock of a late eighteenth century audience on hearing Beethoven for the first time. Back in the real world, though, there can be occasions when, for example, hearing an unfamiliar or a new piece can trick one into just such a sensation.

The Miller Piano Quartet at St James's Church, Piccadilly. Photo © 2003 Keith Bramich
The Miller Piano Quartet at St James's Church, Piccadilly. Photo © 2003 Keith Bramich

All credit then, for its St James performances, to this group, whose only faults (at least from where I sat) were slight balance and acoustic problems which under-emphasised and de-clarified the strings, most notably in the first movement of the C major quartet, Woo 36 No 3. If the delicious weaving of themes amongst the instruments and the notably beautiful solos played by Galina Tanney and Grace Chen in the central F major Adagio con espressione seemed familiar, it was because Beethoven re-used the movement, with the addition of a D minor section, in his Sonata Op 2 No 3.

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Copyright © 9 September 2003 Keith Bramich, Gloucestershire, UK


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