Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Major coup: premiere of Kemal Yusuf's first string quartet in Norwich

Kemal Yusuf
Kemal Yusuf
Kemal Yusuf, Haydn, Webern, Beethoven; Carducci Quartet; Norwich & Norfolk Chamber Music at the John Innes Centre
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Feb 18 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Premiere of a first quartet by the young composer of Turkish descent

Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music pulled off a major coup by commissioning London-born composer, Kemal Yusuf, to write a piece for the Carducci Quartet. His first foray in the string-quartet genre. Yusuf's new quartet was performed alongside Haydn's Quartet in D major Op.20, no.4, Webern's Langsamer Satz and Beethoven Quartet in F minor Op. 95, at the John Innes Centre, Colney, Norwich on Saturday 18 February 2017.

A composer who possesses a unique ear, Yusuf (who is of Turkish descent) has a loose approach to music which has seen him highly active in the field of musical theatre while he also works as a jazz pianist and has written one or two film scores. His new piece, entitled ‘Oyun’ (meaning ‘Game’ in Turkish), is dedicated to his late mentor, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, whom, I’m sure, would have been immensely proud of his achievement. In fact, Max was the first to see Yusuf’s sketches and was instrumental in helping out the younger composer to formulate and nurture his initial ideas.

An exploration of the interplay of different musical materials, ‘Oyun’ - a single-movement work lasting about 18 minutes and influenced by Debussy’s ‘Jeux’ - is a piece the composer describes as being ‘misbehaving’. The only point of stability comes from a lush and quickly modulating chorale pitched in the higher register towards the end of the piece. It’s a great moment of strength and sturdiness in the work before it returns to its mischievous and carefree ways.

Despite the work’s fragmented nature - which sees each player afforded the opportunity of demonstrating their musical prowess in one or more solo passages against the other members of the quartet holding on a long-extended chord - the tone of the instruments they produced created a rich and warm array of tonal colour demonstrating the dexterity and skill of the players of this fine quartet who are, indeed, no strangers to Norwich.

When NNCM commissioned Gordon Crosse to write a piece as part of the Britten centenary celebrations in 2013, resulting in ‘Blyth Postcards’, the première fell to the Carduccis. Therefore, it seems appropriate that the quartet should be chosen to give the first performance of Yusuf’s latest work. And for last year’s Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Yusuf wrote a large-scale orchestral/choral piece entitled ‘Cain’ premièred by the Norfolk & Norwich Festival Chorus and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of David Parry. In addition to his compositional work, Yusuf - initially self-taught but progressed to the Royal Academy of Music under the tutelage of Simon Bainbridge - founded the London Graduate Orchestra in 2013 with conductor, Claire Lampon, offering graduates the opportunity of performing in a high-standard and well-disciplined orchestra.

The Carducci’s invigorating and entertaining programme also included brilliant readings of Haydn’s D major quartet, Webern’s ‘Langsamersatz’ and Beethoven’s F minor quartet, known as the ‘Serioso’, written, unbelievably, in Vienna whilst the city was under severe attack from Napoleon. The quartet - comprising Matthew Denton, Michelle Fleming (violins), Eoin Schmidt-Martin (viola) and Emma Denton (cello) - gets its name, by the way, from Castagneto-Carducci, a comune in the province of Livorno in the Italian region of Tuscany, where the quartet founded a festival a few years ago. But closer to home they preside over their own chamber-music weekend held in May at Highnam in Gloucestershire.
Reviewed by Tony Cooper

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