Monday 10 August 2020

Outdoor engagement and energy: the Corran Quartet in Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven in an Islington courtyard

The Corran Quartet live in Islington
The Corran Quartet live in Islington
Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven; Corran Quartet

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 August 2020
In an enterprising re-start to performing, this young string quartet brings finesse to outdoor performance in Islington

After months of isolation, performers are gradually emerging and exploring the possibilities of outdoor performances. Having said an emotional goodbye to Opera Holland Park on Saturday [see my article], Sunday 9 August 2020 saw us in the courtyard of a modern housing development in Islington where we heard the Corran Quartet performing Mozart's String Quartet No. 12 in B flat major, K 172, Haydn's String Quartet in E flat major, Opus 20, No. 1, and Beethoven's String Quartet in A major, Opus 18 No. 5

The Corran Quartet (Joana Ly, Kirsty MacLeod, Edward Keenan, Molly McWhirter) is a young string quartet (three Scots and a Portuguese), and they had planned to devote 2020 to performing the quartets of Beethoven, however circumstances intervened. On Sunday, the quartet launched a series of garden concerts with an event in Islington, an enterprising way to kick-start the performing season in a way that is socially responsible.

The outdoor acoustics of a courtyard in a modern housing development are not ideal. The sound was clear but, understandably dry without any of the bloom you get from a good building, it seemed to favour the lower strings. Yet the four young players embraced the challenges of the venue, and gave us a trio of fine quartets, all performed with engagement and energy, the performers clearly delighted at being back performing.

Mozart's String Quartet in B flat major was written in Vienna in 1773 (when the composer was 17); it is from a group often known as the Viennese Quartets and where Mozart was very much influenced by Haydn's recently published quartets. The opening movement was performed with graceful vigour, and I found the built-in hesitancies in the opening rather interesting. We could appreciate Joana Ly's fine-grained tone in the slow movement, which is a singing violin solo over accompaniment, though the acoustic deprived us of some warmth. The minuet featured some lively interactions between the three upper strings, and we ended with a toe-tapping finale.

Haydn's String Quartet in E flat major is from a group of quartets composed in 1772, at a time of great stress in Haydn's life, but the quartets themselves represent a significant milestone in the development of the form and came to represent Haydn as the 'father of the string quartet'. The opening movement was graceful and civilised, but also highly inventive with a lovely conversation between all four instruments. The minuet alternated between robust and intriguing, with a rather winsome trio (two violins and cello) as the trio. The slow movement was warm-toned and sustained, with different lines coming in and out of focus, and a perky and energetic finale yet with something a little more in the development.

Beethoven's Opus 18 string quartets were his first published essays in the genre, written between 1796 and 1800, and published in 1801, they show the young composer (who had only arrived in Vienna in 1792) influenced by the quartets of Haydn and Mozart but also determined to go his own way. The first movement was postively Haydnesque, and full of character, with the players really making us smile at the end. The elegant minuet movement included a lovely duo for two violins yet with a surprisingly dark turn at the end, and the players' use of portamento in the trio gave the melody some extra interest. The lyrical finale featured a series of characterful dialogues and duos, giving us a real sense of conversation, yet as the movement progressed the players brought out the sense of drama.

The quartet has further (sold out) garden concerts and then they are at the Fidelio Cafe in October, playing Beethoven. Full details from the quartet's website.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • The close of an amazing season, and a farewell: the last Opera Holland Park of 2020 - concert review
  • 2000 years of history: guitarist Xuefei Yang on exploring the music of her homeland on her new disc Sketches of China, on DECCA - interview
  • Engaging dexterity: Bach's English Suites from the young Italian harpsichordist Paolo Zanzu  - CD review
  • A short yet magical experience: Interstices from Brother Tree Sound  - CD review
  • In the tavern of sweet songs: settings of classical Persian poetry in Edward Fitzgerald's English versions by contemporary composer David Lewiston Sharpe - Cd review
  • The Prison: conductor James Blachly on how an American conductor & orchestra finally brought Ethel Smyth's late masterwork to disc - interview
  • Towards German romantic opera: Carl Maria von Weber's struggle to create modern German opera - feature article
  • Live music returns: Opera Holland Park's uplifting evening of operatic arias from an impressive line-up of performers - concert review
  • Creating new opera under lockdown: I chat to composer Alex Woolf about A Feast in the Time of Plague, his new opera with Sir David Pountney to be premiered by Grange Park Opera - interview
  • Zest and relish: Handel's comic masterpiece Semele directed by John Eliot Gardiner with young cast enjoying every minute - CD review
  • Media Vita reconsidered: Alamire's fine new recording takes advantage of the latest research into the structure of Sheppard's great antiphon - CD review
  • 'Home

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