Castalian Quartet : Our second annual launch concert, another review 7th October 2012

By Richard Amey, written for The Worthing Herald and published with the author’s permission

ANYONE believing that string quartet musicians are of the dourer slices of the classical music personality pie chart will have stood corrected by the opening work of Strings Attached’s new season of Coffee Concerts at Brighton’s Dome on Sunday.

With the father of the string quartet, Haydn, heading its repertoire, displaying no sense of humour threatens your artistic credibility. The opening work on Sunday morning in the Corn Exchange was the sixth and final quartet of Haydn’s Opus 60 publication and The Castalian Quartet’s projection of the particular humour on its final page simply had me laughing.

How can any composer be complete without the ability to convey humour — over and beyond mere wit? Thus it follows for string quartet ensembles. And the likelihood of being made to chuckle delights string quartet audiences. Haydn is fun as well as all this other great attributes and even though new first violinist Daniel Pioro was making only his fourth appearance with Castalians, no newcomer needs to learn the humour of Haydn.

Found in the excellent accompanying Coffee Concert companion programme, Brighton violinist, violist and quartet player Chris Darwin’s programme notes also make the reader smile broadly. Significant?

Pioro is trying out after the departure of Canadian, Sadie Fields, and 2nd violin Daniel Llewellyn Roberts reports a consequent change in their sound from romantically tinged to a more open one.

The Castalian Quartet made its Wigmore Hall debut in January. The personality of French violist Charlotte Bonneton caught the eye and ear as the epitomy of a young quartet alive and unified in its alertness to nuance and subtleness of touch, as much as to rhythm and texture. While Bonneton brings visually a sense of excitement and anticipation, cellist Rebecca Herman’s lighter touch, not just in her pizzicato, gives the Castalians a spring and an airiness.

With complete confidence, the Quartet stepped from their final exhuberance in the Eb of the Haydn to the F minor of Beethoven’s Opus 95 —the immensely condensed ‘Quartett Serioso’ which is one of the greatest string quartets in the entire repertoire. It’s music speaking of worry, disturbance and fright, with fleeting and possibly false consolation. At this time, Beethoven was moving knowingly into his final years of deaf isolation and cosmic contemplation while unable to hear and partake in the full discourse the world outside.

If the Castelians’ reading lacked the vehemence and explosiveness one associates with great performances of this piece, then that lies probably around the corner when Pioro becomes fully embedded.

Dvorak’s Opus 61 in C major, written 70 years later, rounded off the morning and latterly put Pioro through his paces. We moved from post-Napoleon Vienna to 1880s Bohemia with a flow of Slavonic melody and rhythm, apparently freeing us from the angst of the pre-interval Beethoven. And as large an audience as seen at a Dome Coffee Concert since the move from Hove’s Old Market, went off happily enriched, to enjoy a reception in the Founders Room.

The stage structure being already set for the current Comedy Festival prevented this concert being staged in the round but that will return for the next Coffee Concert, by the Endymion Ensemble on October 28. “I feel far more involved in the performance when it’s in the round,” commented one audience member, undoubtedly speaking for the majority.

This new season is not just string quartets. The Endymions will play the two woodwind instrument crowns of the repertoire, the Clarinet Quintets of Mozart (K581) and Brahms (Opus 115). The Aquinas Piano Trio follow on November 18 with Rachmaninov, Mendelssohn and Dvorak.

Richard Amey