The Brighton Dome Corn Exchange, 3 October 2013
I have heard tell that Günter Pichler, leader of the Alban Berg quartet, used to practise in high temperature and humidity wearing a fur coat, so as to be prepared for extreme conditions during a performance. But one of the conditions that dedicated practice can do little to compensate for is the acoustics of the venue. Thanks to the ongoing Comedy Festival, the Jubilee Quartet had to perform last night in the northern half of the Corn Exchange. Its acoustic, thanks to acres of plush curtain and a splendidly full audience in its cramped raked seating, was dry – well, actually, dead. The obvious consequence of such a dead acoustic for the audience is that the balance is capricious. We, back right, heard little of the viola and cello; a friend, front left heard too little of the violins. More worryingly, a dry acoustic is unnerving for the players who can hear their own instrument but not much else, encouraging a cautious approach to playing, rather than the bolder approach that would help build up the sound.
At the launch concert for the new Strings Attached Coffee Concert Series at the Dome, the young Jubilee Quartet coped magnificently with these difficulties. For me, the highlight of the evening was Janacek’s ‘Intimate Letters’ quartet, a characteristically episodic piece where much of the interest is in the local detail of each episode – something which the dry acoustic actually helped one to hear. The quartet captured convincingly the passionate torment behind the music, and special mention should go to Amy Tress, who gave a confidently lyrical performance of a notoriously difficult second violin part in this her first concert with the Jubilee Quartet. There was also fine playing from the quartet in the other two items. In the slow movement of Haydn’s Op 54 no 2 quartet there was a wonderfully wayward riff from the leader Tereza Privratska, and glorious cello arpeggios from Lauren Steel in the last movement. The impact of Schubert’s incomparable “Death and the Maiden” quartet was weakened for me by the impossibility of building up a full body of sound in the dry acoustic, despite passionate and dedicated playing by this talented young group.
Mary McKean, chair of Strings Attached, assured the audience that future concerts, after October, in the main Coffee Concert Series will be in the southern half of the Corn Exchange. Both audience and players will be relieved at that and we look forward to a wonderful season.
Chris Darwin 4 October 2013