thu 30/05/2024

Elmore String Quartet, Kings Place review - impressive playing from an emerging group | reviews, news & interviews

Elmore String Quartet, Kings Place review - impressive playing from an emerging group

Elmore String Quartet, Kings Place review - impressive playing from an emerging group

A new work holds its own alongside acknowledged masterpieces

The Elmore String Quartet

The young Elmore String Quartet, recent graduates of the Royal Northern College, made an impressive Kings Place debut last night with a programme that put music written by composers at a similarly early stage in their careers alongside another’s last work. They played with a subtlety and thoughtfulness that point them up as a group to keep an eye on.

Leo Geyer (b.1992) (pictured below) is a multi-faceted musician, not just a composer/arranger but also conductor and, recently, a presenter on Radio 3. His Unfurling, receiving its premiere, was a short piece which – and how often is this actually the case with premieres? – left me wanting more. The music starts with the gradual unrolling of a rocking motif, the open fifths of the instruments’ tuning informing a spacious harmony, which, I only read afterwards, depicts the emerging of a fern in spring. I liked the way Geyer broadened out this opening material into a broader harmonic field, through an impassioned central episode, before returning at the end to the rocking opening over a fragile consonance. The music reminded me of Caroline Shaw with its coloured diatonicism, and it didn’t feel out of place alongside established masterpieces. I wonder if it might work as the first movement of a longer piece?

Composer Leo GeyerThe Elmores, who commissioned the Geyer, then turned to Ravel’s wonderful Quartet of 1903. I was of the generation introduced to the scherzo by its use in Channel 4’s The Camomile Lawn – come for the saucy sex scenes, stay for the music – and I have never lost the sense of wonder at this miraculous music. The scoring is so subtle, so sophisticated, so rich, that there is a great deal for the quartet to work with. Leader Xander Croft projected the opening melody with authority and throughout there are little cameos for everyone. Inis Oírr Asano’s smoky viola solo at the start of the movement set the scene for a slightly sinister reading of this flutey, flickering music. Cellist Felix Hughes attacked the scampering pizzicatos of the scherzo with vigour while Miles Ames enjoyed the intricate lines of second violin part, often the glue holding the texture together. I enjoyed the resolution into good humour at the end, where others make it stern.

After the interval was Britten’s Third Quartet, written in his last year and premiered after his death. This is bold programming for a young group, as Britten looks into the abyss. They gave it a good go – and I look forward to hearing them play it when the darker shades may carry more personal weight. There was, though, a lovely ambiguity about the playing: it wasn’t just bleak, although there was bleakness there. Xander Croft’s long solo in the second movement made sense of the angular, skybound writing and the Bartókian fire of the fourth movement was welcome. The playing in the last movement was moving, weighty but also weightless, fading away into uneasy repose.

@bernardlhughes

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