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New sounds and ideas

MALCOLM MILLER attends the first concert in the
Park Lane Group's New Year Series 2005


If anyone had any concerns about the relevance of the string quartet as a contemporary medium, the range of new sounds and ideas in the concert by the young Elysian Quartet offered a powerful antidote. The group's sheer range of colour and new sonorities, the energetic and finely coordinated performances of highly complex and imaginative new works for the medium impressed a large audience at London's Purcell Room on Monday 10 January 2005, the first of the annual Park Lane Group New Year Series for outstanding young artists. Trained at Trinity College of Music, and recipients of the TCM Bulldog scholarship, the four young players, Emma Smith, JennyMay Logan violins, Vincent Sipprell, viola, and Laura Moody, cello, brought precision and conviction to the four varied works, including two premières.

The Elysian Quartet. From left to right: Emma Smith, Jennymay Logan, Vincent Sipprell and Laura Moody. Photo © Marcus Way
The Elysian Quartet. From left to right: Emma Smith, Jennymay Logan, Vincent Sipprell and Laura Moody. Photo © Marcus Way

The most substantial, and the earliest composed, was the final piece, Stephen Montague's String Quartet No 1 : 'In memoriam' which in some ways was also, paradoxically, the most avant-garde, in its use of live and pre-recorded electronics to evoke a poetic, post-modern soundworld of moving and dramatic intensity. Montague composed this prize-winning quartet in 1992 as a personal tribute to two composer friends who had just died whilst in their prime, Barry Andersen and Thomas Sikorski, and motifs and stylistic allusions to their music occur throughout the piece.

Stephen Montague. Photo © Keith Bramich
Stephen Montague. Photo © Keith Bramich

It begins with the faintest sense of breath, bowed and electronically transformed by each instrument in turn, expanded into a howling wind. Soon the music wells into a sensuous patterning that covers the whole tessitura, climaxing in the uppermost reaches where glistening ostinati by the ensemble are captured, looped and repeated as an extra textural layer. The pace picks up with a jazzy riff which begins as a series of scales, and fills the texture in minimalist overlapping phasings, building to a powerful climax that seems to augur a closing gesture. Yet it is a moving threnody that concludes the piece, sustained slow gestures interspersed by low, glowing electronic sounds, heart beat pulses, until the upper string players rise and turn their backs on the audience, their muffled harmonics giving way once again the pure breath and silence. The composer was present to receive deserved applause along with the sound engineer, Tom Gibsey, for what is a most original electro-acoustic sound sculpture with an exhilarating sense of drive and passion.

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Copyright © 13 January 2005 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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