mon 22/07/2024

'Migrations' String Quartet Weekend, National Concert Hall, Dublin review - memorials and masterpieces | reviews, news & interviews

'Migrations' String Quartet Weekend, National Concert Hall, Dublin review - memorials and masterpieces

'Migrations' String Quartet Weekend, National Concert Hall, Dublin review - memorials and masterpieces

Five of the best respond magisterially to a programme focused on war and displacement

The Solas Quartet play beneath artist Caroline Burraway's installationAll images from the National Concert Hall except where otherwise stated

It was chance that the National Concert Hall’s weekend of quartet events featuring responses to war and refugees should coincide with the second anniversary of Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine. By late Saturday morning thousands of Ukrainians and friends had processed beneath our windows on Merrion Square with the usual array of flags and heartfelt banners; at 2.30pm we were listening to a Syrian poet’s words about devastation and displacement as set to music by Jonathan Dove.

So many musical attempts to reflect the horrors of war and its human cost fall embarrassingly short of any powerful response to the subject. But Dove has fashioned a work, In Damascus, which I hazard will stand the test of time as well as Britten’s War Requiem, cited in the post-performance discussion. Quite the opposite in terms of scale, the writing both for voice and quartet seemed perfect in this flawless interpretation by Irish tenor Robin Tritschler and the Carducci Quartet (pictured below by Jim Chamberlain). Robin Tritschler and the Carducci QuartetThe words of Syrian poet Ali Safar, at least in Anne-Marie McManus’s translation of A black cloud in a leaden white sky, come across as blunt – some would say unpoetic – allowing the music to amplify them. Dove avoids cliché; the violence of the opening sequence for quartet contains the germ of things to come, but there are plenty of major and minor triads perfectly placed to illustrate metaphysical escape or sheer naked grief.

The work can’t have had a finer vocal interpreter than Tritschler, who ran the whole dynamic and expressive gamut peerlessly, often emerging out of the quartet textures or dematerialising into them. In the discussion with John Kelly of RTE Lyric FM and the admirable programmer of this extraordinary weekend, Ciara Higgins, the tenor (pictured with them below) talked about the difficulty of stemming tears while performing, and the essential participation of the audience in stunned response, palpable here. Talk after 'In Damascus' performanceIt's hard to tell what, if anything, others felt after the Solas Quartet’s performance of Charlotte Bray’s Ungrievable Lives. With the strings never at any point allowed to sing, or to make any recognisable vocal form of protest, the impact was grey, and one had the feeling that all but the first and last of the 13 movements could have appeared in any order (this despite first violinist Katherine Hunka’s assertion afterwards that the players felt a growing tension – maybe you need to live with this uningratiating style).

The inspiration for Bray’s work had infinitely greater impact: installed in the fine Studio space above the back of the concert platform were 13 children’s dresses handmade by Caroline Burraway (pictured below in conversation with Kelly and Hunka) from the mountain of discarded lifejackets on Lesvos, where refugees were housed in appalling conditions. Each jacket stands for one million exiled children. The installation, with shadows behind the jackets, could hardly have had a greater impact and also informed the performance of another recent work, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Split Apart, from the French Modigliani Quartet. Talk at the Migrations Quartet weekendThe classical outlines of this work, born of rage against Brexit, are finely shaped and direct, if not quite moving, in impact; afterwards first violinist Amaury Coeytaux told us that the European Anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, was present in subterranean form throughout the penultimate movement – I hadn’t detected it. Once again, context overshadowed the emotional impact of the quartet. The speakers this time, Stephen Collins, former political editor of The Irish Times, Dr Jennifer Cassidy, Diplomatic Scholar at Oxford University, were passionate and articulate on everything from Brexit to Gaza; we could have listened to them for another hour.

Unfortunately the inaugural gathering of the Dublin Cole Porter Choral Society – in other words, a domestic singalong – prevented me from hearing the Solas Quartet’s concert of Rohan Harron, Bridge and Grazyna Bacewicz and the Carduccis in Ukrainian top composer Valentin Silvestrov’s Third Quartet later on Sunday afternoon. I also missed the Saturday appearances of the fabulous Belcea Quartet, in masterclass and evening concert, but fortunately not the equally inspiring Pavel Haas Quartet (pictured below; what a feat to have two of the best in Dublin on a single day). Pavel Haas Quartet in DublinVítězslava Kaprálová’s welding of Moravian strains and a gritty modernism inspired, surely, by her lover Martinů, who mourned her untimely death in 1940 for the rest of his life, informed her Op. 8 Quartet. Typically no holds were barred in the passionate utterances of Smetana’s First Quartet ("From My Life"), even if that meant bending the intonation at times. The 200th anniversary of Czech music's founding father could hardly have got off to a stronger start.

A deep and vibrant finale in the main concert hall witnessed the Carduccis, Modiglianis and Pavel Haases in succession. Each group more than held its own. Fanny Mendelssohn’s E flat Quartet, with its short lyric poem of an opening movement and strenuous finale, has deservedly become a repertoire staple since I first heard the Carduccis play it at the Dublin International Chamber Music Festival two years ago; they’ve found even more nuance in it. A Dvořák quartet I didn’t know, No. 11 Op. 61, was revealed as another of the composer’s chamber masterpieces, more layered than any of his symphonies, in the warm eloquence of his Czech exponents; it gives its essential C major quite the runaround, right up to the harmonic rovings before the buoyant conclusion (first violinist Veronika Jarůšková was very much the star here). Modigliani QuartetEven in this peerless company, the Modigliani Quartet (pictured above) – why have I never heard them live before? – managed to convey the essence of chamber-musical magic in the distant voices of Ravel’s genius slow movement, viola-player Laurent Marfaing sounding the note of human elegy against the ineffable transformations of the first movement’s main theme. A transcendental suspension of time that shines brightest in the memory after a weekend of incredible riches.


Excellent review - however, Jonathan Dove's 'In Damascus' was commissioned by the Sacconi Quartet, not the Carduccis. See here for full details:


Mea culpa - too casually, I confused the two quartet names. I'll amend now.

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