As always, a treat to take in the gorgeous canal views from an outside sofa during a balmy Sunday at the wonderful King’s Place. The double whammy being the equal treat for chamber music enthusiasts of the Villiers Quartet New Works Competition. This only comes around once every couple of years and is not to be missed.
Host Matthew Sharp made a great and charmingly idiosyncratic job of each introduction. The programme commenced with José González Granero’s hypnotic String Quartet No.1 ‘Noche del Amor Insomne’ inspired by Lorca’s life and works, and seeming to reveal constructs wider than four instrumental voices. Its simple yet alluring ten-note motif endlessly repeated in series of complex variations, like turning a finely-cut jewel to consider an inclusion from multiple angles. Initially pretty, then with an engine-like chuggingness, and always resolving to a meditative stillness. Senor Granero carried off first prize at the end of the night.
Next up came Simon Parkin’s String Quartet No. 4 in homage to Philip Dick’s sci-fi novel Ubik. Though I first missed the tunefulness of the previous contender, the appealingly off-beat thrumming of the cello offset the levity of Parkin’s tertiary tones. Rhythmic aspects extended in the third movement to an almost toe-tapping degree and progressed thus; pleasingly flintier, and more pleasingly broken by the bashing of bows and col legno dancing across the strings. The contrast with the infinitesimally quiet pizzicato proved totally delightful. Parkin cleverly added more zest and vigour to each movement. The close arrived as fresh and crisp as that chilled glass of Pinot on the terrace.
The outstanding work of the evening was Matthew Browne’s String Quartet No.1 ‘A Penumbral Eclipse’. Beautifully crafted and considered, atmospheric gradients set off magnificently by searing phraseology. The composer took inspiration from his experience of a lunar eclipse, as suggestive of the eclipse of “the vast majority of our experiences…” An exquisite lightness of touch only enhanced in performance: a natural elegance impossible to contrive, slipping and sliding between the most ebullient of harmonisations. Colours at the last shone brightly, polished-off with hearteningly jazzy Swing.
Post interval, an exquisite rendition of Alan Bush’s Dialectic for String Quartet; as confident, thorough and sensitive as anyone would expect. A reminder of this somewhat overlooked composer, masterful and sublime, music falling apart then rebuilding on its transformational journey. An apt metaphor for this most memorable of evenings.