The Amaryllis Quartet at The Queen's Hall was, to date, one of my big surprises at this year’s Festival. Normally string quartets play well known and safe pieces from the classical repertoire of pieces and the first piece today “String Quartet in C major Op 33 No 3 The Bird” by Haydn was just that...pleasant soothing music that was perfect for a late morning/early afternoon concert. Music to just sit back, relax and let the music flow over you.
The second piece “String Quartet” by Lutostawski from 1965 could not have been further removed from the first piece. The at times discordant and almost disturbing sounds of this work are far removed from the sounds that you would normally expect from violins and a viola and the range of techniques involved in playing pretty much pushed these instruments as far as you can go sound wise. This work just sounded to me like it should have been a cinema score to a classic thriller film like “Psycho” or one of those wonderful 1950s “Thriller Noir” films.
Witold Lutostawski was obviously pushing the boundaries of what were acceptable sounds (let alone music) for a string quartet when this work first premiered, and I imagine it was just as divisive then as it still is now. A few people I was talking to at the interval after this were certainly not expecting this piece and reactions were mixed to say the least. For myself, it was great to hear a string quartet brave enough to perform something like this that took them and the audience outside of the expected norm.
The last piece today “String Quartet in E flat major Op 127” by Beethoven took everyone back onto more familiar quartet territory and hopefully soothed the nerves of those left a bit unsettled by the previous work.
Review by Tom King