Mozart at Aldeburgh’s Easter Festival – 1

String Quartet in E minor, Op.33/5
String Quartet in G, K387
String Quartet in F minor, Op.95 (Serioso)

Chiaroscuro Quartet [Alina Ibragimova & Kristin Deeken (violins), Emilie Hörnlund (viola) & Claire Thirion (cello)]

Reviewed by: Rian Evans

Reviewed: 12 April, 2009
Venue: Orford Church, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Chiaroscuro QuartetAs the first phase of Aldeburgh Music’s development plan – the new studio complex housed in Snape’s remaining derelict maltings – looks forward to opening its doors next month, signs of the exponential growth it represents are already evident. The words “prepared during an Aldeburgh Residency” are appearing more and more often and it’s not simply a question of new forces getting the chance to forge performing relationships but of developing new ideas and concepts, with I Fagiolini’s new production “Tallis in Wonderland” the latest of these. Yet what is striking is the way that, in all of this, Aldeburgh is honouring the original vision of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears for Snape, fulfilling their commitment to education and to artist development. As the rest of the world wakes up to the importance of these fundamentals, it is instructive to realise just how far ahead of their time Britten and Pears were.

There was a parallel logic to the programming of music by Mozart at this year’s Easter Festival at Aldeburgh. Britten was a consummate interpreter of Mozart and on Easter Sunday there were afternoon and evening performances where the spirit of music exploration was manifest. The Chiaroscuro Quartet – previous a resident at Aldeburgh – is a period-instrument ensemble and the shimmering quality the players brought to the opening Boccherini was an indication of their approach to the Mozart which followed. In some ways, the playing seemed like a ghostly version of what we are accustomed to hearing and the pallor of first-violin Alina Ibragimova’s fair skin only reinforced that impression, but the way they exploited light and shade, clearly the rationale for the ensemble’s name, made one experience the music in a subtly different way. Sometimes the effect was so understated as hardly to be stated at all, and it could be disconcerting to find a phrase with the detail one is used to hearing somehow disappear into thin air. Yet it was precisely this feel of evanescent sound that was captivating and, if this all seems vague in the extreme, the very distinct rhythmic bite provides the requisite counterbalance.

While the four musicians ultimately create a single unit, the character of cellist Claire Thirion emerged strongly here – with the acoustic of Orford Church lending an extra resonance which helped ground this interpretation – but Ibragimova’s authority was paramount. The mercurial semiquavers sounded magical, together with the breathtakingly hushed pianissimo playing, even if her A-string produced the occasional curiously harsh note. On the surface of it, Beethoven’s ‘Serioso’ Quartet is not obvious ‘period’-quartet territory, but the Chiaroscuro delivered the dynamics with guts and not a little force, making it a good foil for the Mozart.

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