Kiwa String Quartet: Malavika Gopal (violin), Alan Molina (violin), Sophia Acheson (viola), Ken Ichinose (cello),
And friends: Carolyn Mills (harp), Bridget Douglas (flute), Yuka Eguchi (violin), Victoria Jaenecke (viola)
Ginastera: Impresiones de la Puna
Celtic pieces for solo harp
Beethoven: String quartet in B flat Op.18 no.6 (2 movts.)
John Adams: ‘Toot nipple’ from John’s Book of Alleged Dances
Arnold Bax: Quintet for harp and strings
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday, 23 November 2016, 12.15 pm
A large audience greeted a wonderfully varied line-up of professional musicians – and of music. The opening work immediately grabbed one’s attention; Ginastera’s work was delightful and full of subtle animation. Especially notable was the floating, uprising flute part. The programme note describing its ‘gentle, romantic, quasi-impressionist harmonies’ was apt indeed. Which leads me to comment how excellent was the acknowledgement at the end of the printed programme of the sources, including those to be found on the internet. How rare this is, even for those, unlike the writers of these notes, who take theirs word-for-word from such sources.
The three sections of this work for flute and strings provided lovely contrasts, but each was felicitous in its musical language.
Just as the previous work had traditional Argentinean links, so the next two pieces were of folk music character or origin: Farewell to music by Tulough O’Carolan (1670-1738, arr. A. O’Farrell), and the traditional She moved through the fair, arranged by Carolyn Mills. Though played on the orchestral harp, these Celtic pieces were performed in a simple manner befitting their origins. They were both gracious and mournful. The second, based on an Irish folk-song, was familiar to me with different words (the Scottish ballad Lord Randal).
A big change again, to the first and second movements of Beethoven’s quartet. It was wonderful to hear this great work played at a lunchtime concert. It was a spirited performance, with much subtlety as well as elan. The quartet overflows with wonderful melodic motifs. The slow movement was serene and graceful with sonorous harmonic changes. Each instrument spoke its part clearly and unostentatiously, always as a part of the whole. The audience sat soundlessly attentive. How fortunate we are to hear such timeless music from skilled professional musicians at a free lunchtime concert! This was a superb performance.
The next surprise was the Adams piece: a short jokey piece from a set for string quartet and ‘recorded prepared piano’ (which I could not hear). The programme notes stated that the composer said the dances were alleged because “the steps for them had yet to be invented”.
Finally we heard an unfamiliar but major work by Arnold Bax; his quintet for harp and strings, returning to the Irish theme of earlier in the concert. I found it full of mellow enjoyment; it was a pleasurable discovery. The plucked sound of the harp was beautifully set off by the smooth legato of the other strings. A quiet section of the one-movement work had a dreamy character. Then lilting phrases alternated with curious agitations below, followed by minor key utterances and an excited swelling of sound with harp arpeggios and flourishes, over muted violins. Finally, there was a meditative ending.
The harp was an integral part of the whole quintet, not an add-on for occasional solos or special effects.
It was good to hear a concert combining some music that was familiar with some that was not. The enthusiastic audience response was more than fully deserved.