Nicholas Yonge Society

Chamber Music in Lewes

24th February 2017

Shostakovich String Quartet No. 10
Borodin String Quartet No. 2
Sean Doherty String Quartet No. 3 ('Devil’s Dream') 
Henning Kraggerud Preghiera
Beethoven String Quartet in F minor Op. 95 ('Serioso')

Vanbrugh Quartet in performance 

This was a memorable evening which began with a conversation between Janet Lovegrove, Christopher and Caroline Marwood. Their childhood musical experiences and developments in a local Lewes family and their professional lives as musicians were explored. Christopher told the audience about the Vanbrugh’s work in Ireland where for some years it was attached to RTE the broadcasting service. This lead on into an extensive education programme which covers much of the country and teaches students their instrument and in addition, chamber music repertoire and performance.  The Vanbrugh is approaching a change as Gregory Ellis is soon to retire. Christopher talked of plans for future performances with a pianist where the Piano quartet repertoire will be played. This is less well known to audiences and any change of personnel in such a long established group will also be marked.  We wish the Vanbrugh well in this transitional period

The concert was most generous with a wide variety of styles and periods. Shostakovich String Quartet no.10 written five years after his first ‘Cello concerto had echoes of that piece in its melancholy and detached feel. There is great emotional depth in this quartet which appeals immediately to the listener. The Vanbrugh are so finely balanced and experienced that they play almost as one and we were caught up in their energy from the start.

Borodin String Quartet no. 2 is very well known, not least because the theme of the  third movement was arranged for Kismet and Little Matchgirl.  Borodin’s lyrical writing came as something of a relief after the edginess of Shostakovich and the lightness and clarity needed to give this piece freshness despite its popularity was really winning. The Vanbrughs gave us this piece as though it was new both to them and us.

Sean Doherty String Quartet no. 3 ('Devil’s Dream') had been commissioned by the Vanbrugh Quartet from its composer, a violinist who had been taught by a fiddle player from Donegal. The plainchant Dies Irae had a strong presence around which the strings whipped up the atmosphere into what Doherty describes as a “danse macabre…” The short piece in one movement was utterly magical and engaging with foot stomps, traditional fiddle figurations and lush string texture in contrast.

Henning Kraggerud Preghiera. This is an aural prayer as its name suggests. The composer is a violinist and viola player and his writing for strings, mixing the poise of a chaconne with melismatic figurations gave a sustained sense of meditation and calm. The tonal richness added to the warmth which just four string instruments  produced.

Beethoven String Quartet opus 95 ('Serioso').   This piece from Beethoven’s middle period needs little introduction. The four movements were played with absolute clarity and conviction by this extremely experienced and close quartet. The quick changing moods and lively scherzo swept us on after the fugue. The Larghetto dissolved into the Finale and the piece was rounded off joyously with the coda. The Vanbrugh Quartet gave us a stunning performance of this well loved piece.

Reviewer: Helen Simpson
Photographer: David James