Concert Reviews

From press reviews by Ian Stuart-Hunter

Aurea and Gildas String Quartets - 3 April 2017

Aurea and Gildas String Quartets

Perth Chamber Music crowned what has been a truly first class season celebrating their 400th concert with a programme in St John’s Kirk, Perth which combined the talents of the Aurea and the Gildas String Quartets.

First came the Introduction for String Sextet to Strauss’ final opera Capriccio. The group’s playing had warmth and sensitivity, balancing clarity with blend in the calmer sections and bringing passionate drama to the faster.

With a change of violinists, Korngold’s rarely heard Sextet Op.10 received a rich performance which made clear the complexity and harmonies of this master work. The players revealed the 19 year old’s genius, receiving applause at the end of the first movement. Their sound for the Adagio went from seductive and tender to almost orchestral in impact. Equally they were as at home in the sophisticated Intermezzo, an over-the-top waltz, as they were with the buoyant wit and good humour of the Finale.

In the second half the two Quartets combined for Mendelssohn’s Octet Op.20. Given this performance by the Gildas and Aurea Quartets it is quite possible to believe that is the most brilliant work, ever. They had the right élan for the opening Allegro. Qualified moderato it had panache and mobility without seeming in the least rushed. Violas and cellos showed fine tone in the Andante, revealing Mendelssohn’s deeper emotions, whilst the ethereal end displayed beauty of tone from all eight musicians. Precision of detail made the Scherzo seem light and fast, whilst their Finale astonished with its wit, verve and energy. Achieving, understandably, huge applause.

Maxwell String Quartet - 9 December 2016

Maxwell String Quartet

The members of the Maxwell String Quartet were supreme in all aspects in their concert in St John’s Kirk for Perth Chamber Music.

From the opening of Haydn’s Sunrise Quartet, Op.76 No.4, you heard their anticipation of fun to come: the accuracy of their repartee, the smiles between the players, going exactly where the music takes them.

Prokofiev’s Quartet No.2 was an eye-opener. Their performance sprang to life, full of variety, vigour and lyricism. Their research into the Kabardinian themes Prokofiev had been given proved a wellspring of atmosphere and feeling. They revealed the various moods of Prokofiev’s clever and sophisticated writing.

Stravinsky’s Three Pieces were brilliantly characterized. The Maxwell put over the humour of Eccentrique in musical terms, without distorting the piece. Their work had led to an interpretation of the final piece as a nocturne in which their tone convinced.

Most major was their reading of Beethoven’s Quartet in E Flat Op.127. From the depth of succulent chording which started the work to their joy in the fourth movement their superb technique was entirely at the service of the music.

Recognized as such by the Perth audience, they recalled them repeatedly and had the bonus of three Irish tunes played without printed music.

Aurea String Quartet - 11 March 2016

Aurea String Quartet

Perth Chamber Music had yet again obtained artists of the highest quality for their final concert this season. They were the relatively young Aurea String Quartet and as in their name the performances were golden.

They had that glorious quartet sound, making all the right musical points in Haydn’s Quartet Op.64 No.6: sound as four good friends companionably together.

Beethoven’s Quartet in C minor Op.18 No.4 came next. Again their style brought out the composers strengths. The chase of the Finale was so well articulated that it allowed them reserve for a coda that went like a whirlwind.

They were equally at home in Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No.1, making the most of the famous Andante cantabile, huge feeling but no mawkishness. Then bringing the evening to a fantastically rewarding close of almost orchestral presence, St John’s Kirk, Perth resounding with applause.

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook - 15 January 2016

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook

Perth Chamber Music burnished their reputation for quality in the exceptional recital given by tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook.

Classics of song in English George Butterworth’s Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad of 1911 formed the short first half. Time and again James Gilchrist struck the perfect tone, both in melody and meaning for these songs of loss, experience and nostalgia – given extra poignancy in that Butterworth perished himself in action on the Somme.

The larger though equally major piece was Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin. As he cogently explained these twenty songs formed a Romantic round of life. From the opening vigour of the piano part, through urgency and elation, disappointment and anger, to frozen despair and final consolation this true partnership drew you deeply and affectingly into the songs.

Passacaglia Baroque Ensemble - 30 November 2015

Passacaglia Baroque Ensemble

Be it their previous concert with the Brodsky String Quartet, this one with the Ensemble Passacaglia, or their next one with tenor James Gilchrist, Perth Chamber Music major on quality.

It was an unfailing pleasure to hear the unusual instruments of this Baroque group in the acoustic of St John’s Kirk and each of the gifted musicians enthusiastically and charmingly introducing their instruments.

Called The Grand Tour we visited early 18th century Europe in the finest style: ceremonial yet gracious Handel, scientific Bach, sliding over to France for one of Telemann’s Paris Quartets, revealing the person in viola da gamba composer Marin Marais, with courtly charm in a François Couperin Concert Royal, then up to Scotland for Italian Geminiani’s A Treatise of Good Taste and finishing with the only well-known piece, Bach’s version of a Vivaldi Concerto. Fascinating music, superb playing.

Brodsky Quartet - 11 November 2015

Brodsky Quartet

Second in their season in St John’s Kirk, Perth Chamber Music had invited the world famous Brodsky String Quartet.

Springing into vivid life from the first notes they began with Borodin’s Scherzo: the outer sections bubbling excitement, the trio expressively sung.

A totally different sound world they then gave Beethoven’s Quartet in E Flat Op.74. Quartet sound is special and theirs was well nigh perfect: unique sound per player, yet even more when combined. We soon learnt why this quartet is nicknamed The Harp and heard the fabulous sound of the musical tag which follows.

Again complete masters of a different expressive world, the Brodsky with Shostakovich’s Quartet No.5 bowled over the large audience in St John’s with its depth of feeling and its elegance, tense rhythms and searing climaxes. It was truly a concert to reach for superlatives.

The Schubert Ensemble - 6 October 2015

The Schubert Ensemble

In their extremely successful season opener in St John’s Kirk, Perth Chamber Music had invited the internationally famed recordings artists the Schubert Ensemble for a programme of piano quartets.

They began with Huw Watkins, their most frequently performed commission. Its short single movement used economy and transformation continuing the grand tradition.

Clarity, affection and enthusiasm characterized their performance of Schumann’s E Flat Quartet. Throughout they were good at the passion and the elation of this tuneful piece.

The grandest of works ended their concert before a large appreciative audience in the fine acoustic of St John’s Kirk, Perth: Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.1. This g minor was grand and epic, majestic and exciting in the wild Hungarian finale.

After tumultuous applause first violin announced ‘a nice, quiet encore’: Schumann’s Canon for Pedal Piano No.4, its generous melody decorated on return.

Chloë Hanslip and Danny Driver - 9 March 2015

ChloŽ Hanslip and Danny Driver

Perth Chamber Music gave their final concert of this season in St John’s Kirk, Perth in the very finest style. Their guests were international concert artists Chloë Hanslip, violin and Danny Driver, piano. They began with James MacMillan’s A Different World. With both standing out as great personalities this evocative and atmospheric work was destroyed at the end in the brutal pounding of the piano.

Next, the largest, greatest work: Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in A Major “Kreutzer”. After the impressive double stopping of the start both artists struck sparks in the exciting Allegro. Contrary-wise the Andante variations were co-operative serenity, the two artists deeply attuned in the music. The Tarentella had amazing verve and excitement.

Hugh Wood’s Poem started the second half using serial technique in an unsettling melody which used conventional gestures and ended in a Debussy-like fineness high on both instruments.

Messiaen’s Theme and Variations too achieved a performance which moved convincingly and with clarity through its various emotional sections.

Chloë Hanslip and Danny Driver ended their recital with a performance of Poulenc’s Violin Sonata which showed depth, humanity and gaiety. The first movement had vividly impassioned playing and lyrical repose. The Intermezzo contrasted the violin’s smouldering and a bittersweet song with amazing double-stopping. The forceful start to the Finale continued in brilliant chase-style, before turning with a piano bang to the tragic, angry end. Well appreciated, superb performances of very different pieces.

Rubens String Quartet - 17 February 2015

Rubens String Quartet

Even amongst Perth Chamber Music’s highly successful series the concert given by the Rubens String Quartet must rank as exceptional.

The Quartet began with a contemporary piece by Dutch composer Joey Roukens based on a motet by Josquin Desprez. And David Sang, given the split composing date of 1500/2009 hovered timelessly in the stone vaults of Perth’s historic St John’s Kirk. The Rubens Quartet played with refinement and class.

Another rarity was a very early Haydn Quartet: Op.1 No.3 in D Major. The Adagio start to this five movement work linked up nicely with And David Sang. A bouncy Menuetto followed, the players’ smiles showing their delight, before the lightening Presto of the Scherzo and a sturdier second Menuetto and the helter skelter fun of the Presto Finale.

The Rubens Quartet identified immediately with the very different sound world of Janacek’s Quartet No.1 After Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata. Each player gave their all in this emotionally hyper vivid work. Their sul ponticello playing was particularly graphic as were their unisons which shot out into the nave with force. Against the mournful melody of the leader, the scratched sound of the viola and second violin had a daring jangling. The cello start to the last movement moved with sadness before the climax, mocked by vicious pizzicato, descended into the misery of the end. Not a nice work, but done to the life by the members of this quartet.

Excellent though the concert had been, the performance of Brahms’ Quartet No.2 in the second half surpassed it by its real love allied with the technical ability to make the piece speak. The Rubens Quartet stole in with refinement and warmth before relaxing to grace with the second theme. Everything dovetailed beautifully: emotion and construction perfect allies. The development had truly fine playing, drawing inexorably, magnificently to end the movement. In the Andante feeling again was exactly right with the lyrical sensitivity of Leader Sarah Kapustin, and the Hungarian passages done with proud passion. All through they really knew what they were doing: musically telling grace, then coruscating detail in Brahms’ Quasi Minuetto then a Finale to cap it all with a perfect appreciation of Brahms’ genius.

Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet - 12 January 2015

Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet

The sound of four saxophones combined can whisper with the subtlety of a string quartet or be garishly raucous. The Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet came to St John’s Kirk, Perth with playing that radiated quality and musicality and which covered the full gamut. A gentle but vivid introduction for the Perth Chamber Music audience was three movements from Grieg’s Suite From Holberg’s Time. As the music required they were nimble and puckish, lyrical and reflective.

In Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango they were fast and lively in Bordel 1900 and sentimental, though moving to brusque and back in, Café 1930.

Paul Patterson’s Diversions Op.32 covered a favourite British topic, the weather, in terms of the wind. Gusty showed the exciting sound of the four saxes at speed. Blowing Blue had references to blues music. A real audience pleaser was the humorous Sea Breeze where motifs from Rule Britannia formed fragmentary variations, flashing past and blown away almost before you had registered them. Its cheeky ending deliberately caught out a few audience members – myself amongst them!

The noble sounding Variations on a Gavotte by Rameau were in the form of variations.

Before the Interval came Iota, written by their baritone player John Rittipo-Moore. This calmly refined multi-media piece with visuals, fronds black and white, which moved calmly across the screen, and discreet sound engineering, had much positive comment from audience members.

The Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet were in their element in an arrangement of Gershwin’s Three Preludes: rhythmic and decisive for the first, a keening undertow of blues for the second and bright and sassy for the third.

Another real discovery with beautifully expressive playing was the Andantino of Debussy’s Quartet. Ten minutes of perfect music.

Alto player Guy Passey was anguished in the tune to Michael Nyman’s punchy Song for Tony No.1; Barbara Thompson’s Quartet No.3 moved from the serene to the rhythmic and back again before adding extra rhythm with tapping keys in Carnival and Country Ayre, which finally faded away. The Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet stood and moved around for the final piece Will Gregory’s Hoe Down. In response to the enthusiastic audience they gave an encore “something sweet to go home”: Piazzolla’s Tango Oblivion.

Daniel’s Beard - 8 December 2014

Daniel’s Beard

Perth Chamber Music’s December concert was given by flexible chamber group Daniel’s Beard. Their name comes from Daniel Cottier who designed their concert home in Glasgow: a picture there of him possesses a luxuriantly full Victorian beard.

Sounding absolutely superb in the historic setting of St John’s Kirk, Perth, Sonia Cromarty began the evening with a thoroughly understood, stylish reading of J.S.Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No.1 in G Major BWV1007. The rolling sound of the Prélude richly filled the acoustic. She showed eloquence and understanding of the dance basis of the other movements.

The audience, which should have been larger considering the quality of all Perth Chamber Music’s concerts, next heard a perceptive reading of Brahms Horn Trio. Above the excellent music making Andy Saunders had brought along a French 19th century natural horn and demonstrated the difference in sound between it and the modern valve horn. The opening movement had warmth and feeling for Brahms’ lyricism, especially from violinist Rachel Smith. The chunky, hunting Scherzo had noble horn calls and athletic pianism from Lynda Cochrane. The Adagio showed grief, a total contrast to the energy and buoyancy of the Allegro con brio Finale.

Franz Schreker’s Der Wind is a tiny ballet in which Maximiliano Martín’s peerless clarinet joined the other four. The Wind was gentle at first, blew a little harder, had a moment of force then relaxed to a languid waltz, became more animated, then with a shudder, calmed with a clarinet folksong. Delicate sonorities abounded, Lynda Cochrane having a particularly full role at the piano.

All five were again present for Vaughan Williams’ very early Quintet in D Major of 1898. It was colourful, enjoyable fun, but hardly recognizable as VW: Brahms rushing the fences in the first movement, interest and ideas tumbling over each other. The Intermezzo was very French, particularly the ballet-style music of the Trio. The Andantino was again obsessed with Brahms, but with the odd VW touch. In the Allegro molto finale the atmosphere of a sea shanty was not far off. Brilliantly and entertainingly played it was appreciated with lengthy applause by the Perth Chamber Music Audience.

Atalanta Piano Quartet - 12 November 2014

Atalanta Piano Quartet

The Atalanta Piano Quartet in their concert for Perth Chamber Music in St John’s Kirk, Perth had elegance and musicality.

Beethoven’s Piano Quartet in E Flat Op.16 began. The Atalanta Piano Quartet started loftily before turning to the finely fluent Allegro. The Andante cantabile emphasized the lyrical, while all four delighted the audience in the fun of the final rondo.

Schumann’s Piano Quartet Op.47 emerged as a truly great work. Excitingly dynamic in the first movement, they were elegant in the Scherzo. They reached an apogee in the love song of the slow movement. Their concluding Vivace combined the exciting and the lyrical.

Martin Butler’s Sequenza Notturna of 2003 had an atmospheric start with high piano treble and string harmonics. After intentionally improvisational night sounds, the piece’s activity was raised before ending with a return to opening material. It was a piece which held together, moving musically into a more argued, central, declamatory section.

A warmly emotional performance of Fauré’s Piano Quartet in c minor Op.15 ended the programme. The difference in sound world was apparent from its opening, urgent first theme. The light touch of the Scherzo was excellent, its pizzicato contrasting with the sound with mutes in the Trio. The grave start to the Adagio began a movement of concentration and emotional power, the ensemble having a finely judged sound. The final Allegro molto had a leaping energy which went from stormy agitation to an optimistic final surge.

For each of the works the Perth audience responded with enthusiasm, as was only due for such fine playing.

Castalian String Quartet - 10 October 2014

Castalian String Quartet

As the extremely successful season opener in St John’s Kirk, Perth Chamber Music had invited the Castalian String Quartet. Within a few bars of Mozart’s Quartet in B Flat K589 it was apparent that this group had that quality which defines a great string quartet: togetherness which went way beyond just four musicians of technical ability playing in time.

Seated closer together than many, there was a flexibility and an immediacy to their inter-reactions. With the most beautiful playing the first movement seemed to float out effortlessly and rightly. This was not to deny a taut development. Written for the cello playing Friedrich Wilhelm II the Larghetto started with Christopher Graves’ cello, then Charlotte Bonneton’s viola, in a duet of timeless serenity. The Castalians gave Mozart’s Minuet a sophisticated, elevated reading, contrasting with the busyness of the extended Trio. Mozart the opera composer came through in the feel of the Finale with its perfectly timed little flourishes. Quartet Leader Sini Simonen was superb in her decorated line as the work moved towards its slightly regretful end.

The Castalian were equally revealing in the very different sound world of Ravel’s only Quartet. Their technique and care as to precise chord colouring and weighting brought out nostalgia and refinement. The pizzicato tour de force of the second movement’s dance moved vertiginously on. The trio with mutes had several teasing almost-returns before actually doing so. Again with mutes their interpretation of the Très lent slow movement had the motto with great tenderness and also particularly fine playing from Daniel Roberts’ second violin and the viola. The Finale embodied vigour with exciting flashes of colour. The Castalians showed their passionate involvement and placed the references to earlier moments perfectly.

The final great quartet of the evening was Schubert’s in d minor known as Death and the Maiden. The abrupt summons to attention and the pause caught the acoustic of St John’s Kirk perfectly. The drama of the opening and the supple fineness of the second theme were superb: tension and lyricism in balance. The coda brought first excitement then desolation. The version of the Schubert song which gives the quartet its nickname was exceptionally well done, both dynamic and elastic. Each of the Quartet’s members shone in the variations. The viscerally tense rhythmic tugging of the demonic Scherzo contrasted with the heavenly repose of the Trio. The Castalians’ precision in the hurtling Ride to the Abyss of the Finale allowed them to feel fast, but also give full value to lyrical moments. The even faster coda to the movement brought joyful exhilaration.

For earlier reviews, please browse the archive.