Rochdale Online, October 2013

Rochdale Online

October 9, 2013
Review by Graham Marshall
The 2013-14 season of six concerts began on Saturday 5 October, when the accomplished musicianship and splendid sonority of the Villiers String Quartet members James Dickenson and Tamaki Higashi (Violins), Carmen Flores (Viola) and Nick Stringfellow (Cello) filled the Heywood Civic Centre hall with delightful sound in a programme which included a centenary tribute to one of England’s great 20th century composers, Benjamin Britten (1913-76), in the form of his Divertimenti (1933).

These three pieces provide the instrumentalists with an opportunity to show off their virtuosity and insight into the composer’s developing personality. They did this with aplomb. The music was meticulously prepared and deliciously served up.

The concert had begun with a vibrant account of one of Beethoven’s early experimental scores, the Quartet in B flat Op. 18 No. 6, in which he explores contrasts – both between and within movements. The comparatively spare textures of the opening movement, the elegant decorations of the Adagio, the shocking rhythms and whirlwind violin solo of the Scherzo and intensely delicate slow introduction to the lively finale were all executed with great precision and poise.

In the second half of the concert there was more English music to admire and enjoy for its distinctive personality. Yorkshire-born (though of German ancestry) Frederick Delius was featured in a most sympathetic performance of the slow movement of a string quartet written just after the First World War. Entitled Late Swallows, this “autumnal soliloquy” has a intensity that obviously spoke directly to the hearts of the players as it did to the audience.

The String Quartet in E minor by Edward Elgar was written against the background of that same war and displays a similar artistic sense of regret to that which permeates the Delius. There had always been a “romantic wistfulness” in Elgar’s music, but here the prevailing mood is decidedly defiant, even aggressive. At the hands of lesser performers there is a risk of sentimentality and showiness. The Villiers Quartet had the measure of the music, and convinced the audience of its integrity, power and depth of feeling.