Proms Chamber Music No.6 (25 August)

Italian Serenade
String Quartet in F minor, Op.95 (Serioso)
String Quartet

Szymanowski Quartet
[Marek Dumicz & Grzegorz Kotow (violins); Vladimir Mykitka (viola) & Marcin Sieniawski (cello)]

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 25 August, 2003
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Another Monday lunchtime and another nicely balanced programme at the V & A’s Lecture Theatre, introduced, as ever, by Christopher Cook. He entertained the packed audience pre-broadcast with some thoughts about the six Wedgwood jasperware buttons on the card handed out to audience members on entry.In previous years a specific item from the V & A’s extensive collection had been on view, with a talk given at midday by a curator from the museum.Why, this year, that practice has changed, with only the vestige of a photograph of items and a generic introduction by Cook, I know not. In this case, however delightful the buttons might be, and witty Cook’s elucidation, it seemed so completely divorced from the actual music.

The Szymanowski Quartet commemorated the centenary of the tragic death, in madness, of Hugo Wolf with an intense, even febrile rendition of his Italian Serenade, as if Wolf’s neuroses were bubbling up to the surface of what would normally be considered light and relaxed music. That seriousness of intent followed through into Beethoven’s 1810 quartet written after an offer of marriage had been rejected. The composer himself called the F minor work, Serioso. The Szymanowski gave it a solid performance.

The highlight of the concert was the final piece: Lutoslawski’s sole quartet, written in 1964.Extraordinary in conception – and certainly in execution in this performance, both convincing and gripping – the pips and squeaks of the first violin’s opening solo eventually become enmeshed in four separate lines, punctuated at times by strident notes passed from one instrument to another in a deliberate sequence. Lutoslawski’s aleatoric affects allow each player their own material, which can be played, and repeated, in the musician’s own tempo and phrasing. Yet it was almost impossible to tell which passages were left to chance and which carefully constructed by the composer (such as the strident punctuation). One wanted to hear the work immediately again, to see if one could detect the change in these passages, so the work – following its own convincing logic – was doubly intriguing.

I, for one, will be catching it again on the Sunday repeat, and look forward to hearing the Szymanowski Quartet afresh soon.

  • Radio 3 re-broadcast on Sunday 31 August at 1 p.m.
  • BBC Proms

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