Festival Music

Gringolts Quartet

Queen’s Hall

Loading article content

Svend McEwan-Brown

five stars

With its EIF debut, the Gringolts Quartet sets the bar high for the other quartets appearing this year. What a pleasure! Beautifully integrated sound; immaculate execution of impeccable, mature interpretations, charismatic on-stage and, above all: they are purely about the music. Striking a fine balance of profundity and humour for both Haydn and Brahms, they left their audience enraptured or tittering in all the right places. They convincingly adapted their sound to be classically vibrato-free for one then full-fat Romantic for the other.

There is nowhere to hide in Haydn’s quartets. Many entirely miss his wit and come a cropper on his sharp bends. No such problem here, nor in Jorg Widmann’s tour de force, his "Hunt" Quartet, which got belly laughs. Assuming all 19 concerts in the Queen’s Hall series have 80 minutes of music each, living composers contribute perhaps 2% of the total. Thankfully, Haydn and Brahms lived when that 2% was normally more like 80-100%, otherwise what masterworks might we never have had? Widmann is among the hottest composers anywhere right now, and his quartets are exceptional. Here, he subjects a bit of Schumann to a fierce and bloody exploration, a little like Bacon’s Screaming Popes distort Velasquez. In short, three players hunt and kill the cellist. How we laughed (seriously!), but Widmann is far more than a blackly comedic prankster: a master story-teller, he leads listeners through unfamiliar and challenging sounds, using Schumann’s motifs as instantly recognisable way-markers. Then he throws in more smart references than a Simpsons episode.

A great piece got the great performance and the reception it deserved. Might that inspire EIF to love contemporary classical music as much as it does other kinds of "Contemporary" music?