String Quartet No.1
String Quartet No.2 [UK premiere]
Fantasie of a Sudden Turtle [UK premiere]
String Quartet in F, Op.59/1 (Rasumovsky)
Kamran Ince (piano)
Vellinger Quartet [Gordan Nikolitch & Philippe Honoré (violins); Geneviève Strosser (viola) & Sally Pendleberry (cello)]
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 30 June, 2004
Venue: Hackney Empire, London
My second visit to Türkfest brought the Vellinger Quartet – with three strongly contrasted pieces by three very different composers, followed by a timeless classic.
Now in her early 30s, Selen Gülün was present for the performance of her First Quartet (2001) – a concise, three-in-one work whose unfolding of ideas and their varied repetition amounted to a semi-palindrome in its formal consistency. Vivid and approachable too, whereas Ilhan Usmanbas’s Second Quartet (1970) was hard-hitting Modernism with a vengeance – even though there was little here not anticipated in Ligeti’s own Second Quartet of two years earlier. Usmanbas lacks his contemporary’s deftly applied intensity, but his integration of motivic and textural poles is powerfully carried out, themusic generating evident momentum through sheer force of contrast. As with a previous contribution to Türkfest, one was left intrigued as to the piece’s context within Usmanbas’s output.
Although hardly a household name in the UK, that of Kamran Ince has the highest profile of any living Turkish composer, though part-American parentage has accorded him greater prominence on the other side of the Atlantic. Fantasie of a Sudden Turtle (1990) is a work of built-in contrast, made graphic by the inherent contradiction of the title. Thus, a turtle given to imagining physical qualities and states of mind which it cannot realise; leading to a sequence of dialogues – at times aggressive, at others lamenting – in which piano and string trio live out said turtle’s fantasies. Forceful, pungent music, rhythmically treacherous and laudably brought off by Ince and the Vellinger – but, not for the first time with this composer, musical interest lay at the level of gesture rather than substance.
Interestingly, though Ince has coached and inspired many of the subsequent generation of Turkish composers (as a browse through the festival programme will attest), few of them seem to have picked up on his polystylistic idiom, whose disingenuousness is more than a little apparent.
Formed in 1991, the Vellinger was among the most estimable of British quartets that decade – such that several personnel changes has not forgone. The account of Beethoven’s ‘First Rasumovsky’ was notable for the poise of its ensemble in what, for 1806, must have seemed frighteningly ‘orchestral’ quartet writing. It held the attention of an audience which, after the misapprehension that chamber pieces are invariably through-composed had been dispelled, sustained a level of concentration that audiences in more illustrious classical-music venues ought to be encouraged to emulate.