Rochdale Music Society Concert - ‘Barbirolli’
For many years synonymous with the Hallè orchestra, the name ‘Barbirolli’ conjures up a feast of beautiful music to anyone in these parts who enjoys classical music. That it was taken over a few years ago by a group of four string players to indicate their performing together as a group was a bold invention on their part. But it has proved a worthy brand name for their group (which is the String Quartet in Residence at Salford University), as was amply demonstrated on Saturday evening (21 April), in the Heywood Civic Centre, where they offered a responsive Rochdale Music Society audience the experience of music designed to intrigue, challenge and delight.
The concert began with a genial Quartet (No. 52 in E flat) by Haydn, a good example of the developments in compositional technique which Haydn can be said to have pioneered over the years: the players come together to perform on more or less equal terms, no single instrument dominating.
Such music could well be described as ‘conversational’, with well balanced turns of appropriate musical phrase being contributed by all four participants as the discussion proceeds to a satisfying conclusion.
The members of the Barbirolli Quartet showed that they had a clear understanding of this, and brought to their stylish performance a warmth and depth of feeling that the composer would have appreciated.
Depth of feeling was very much to be sensed, too, in the performance of Bartòk’s landmark Second Quartet which followed.
This music, in which the composer was exploring the possibilities of involving raw material from his native Hungarian peasant music and North African Berber music in expanding the horizons of a mainstream European tradition mainly serving Austro-German ideals up to that point in history, has little that might be described as ‘warmth’.
Composed between 1915 and 1917 against the background of the war in Europe, it is akin to the First World War poetry of Wilfred Owen, who said that “my subject is war, and the pity of war...”. Incredulity, despair, frustration, anger, violence – intense human feelings, are all to be sensed throbbing through this exploration of the savage beauty to be found when taming dissonance for artistic, musical purposes.
In the end there comes a state of suspended animation to which the exhausted soul aspires with relief, and a totally absorbing account of such a harrowing experience was given with the interpretive skills of violinists Rakhi Singh and Katie Stillman, violist Alexandros Koustas and guest cellist Reinoud Ford.
The second half of the concert was devoted to the only surviving chamber music work of Verdi – his Quartet in E minor, composed to while away the time when a production of Aida in Naples had to be delayed because the leading soprano was taken ill.
Verdi himself was somewhat dismissive of his achievement, but it was the product of a mind as finely tuned to the opportunities and challenges of writing for an intimate ensemble as for the public spectacle of opera.
It was a real treat to have this masterly outpouring of lyricism, charm and passion played with obvious determination to captivate and delight the audience.
As an encore the Quartet brought out of the cupboard a finely executed offering of the Waltz movement from Britten’s Three Divertimenti. This was no mere freebie!
Britten makes very considerable technical demands on the players. On this occasion, they showed that they were still up for it even after their very well ordered and demanding published programme had run its course.
The final concert in this season’s series will be on Saturday 12 May at Heywood Civic Centre, when students from the Chetham’s School of music will be performing a variety of solo and ensemble works, including Walton’s Façade.