COULL QUARTET Holy Trinity Church, Leamington

 

       

                                        COULL QUARTET

                                        Holy Trinity Church, Leamington

Richard Phillips and Leamington Music have achieved epic triumphs in bringing live music back into our lives, and the miraculous existence of the Warwick and Leamington Midsummer Festival, running at various locations in the two towns for well over a fortnight, is a tribute to the team’s enterprise and tenacity.

A highlight event here were the two concerts delivered by the popular, long-time local Coull Quartet on the evening of July 1, the second of which featured the String Quartet no.10 by Robert Simpson, Leamington-born, and with this year marking his centenary. This substantial three-movement work was composed for the Coull’s tenth anniversary, and dedicated to them “in friendship”. It bears the subtitle “For Peace”, and indeed much of the piece is slow-moving, never quite serene, and ultimately consolatory in acceptance, gracefully luminous as it winds down to its conclusion.

It makes not only for concentrated listening, but demands dedication and controlled stamina from its performers (even without the hiatus caused by the leader’s collapsing music stand), and the Coulls rose to their task magnificently, complementing the patient building of the composer’s unfolding of a huge integrity, unashamed to reveal references to subconscious influences, Bruckner, Sibelius and Beethoven among them.

And it was Beethoven who completed the programme, his third Razumovsky Quartet initially opening out in the airy, open acoustic of this beautiful building, but soon lapsing into a rather syrupy suave delivery which deprived this questing music of its “edge”. A particular victim here was the slow movement, emerging in these circumstances as interminable (since when has one ever felt impatience with Beethoven?).

Contributing to the problem was the actual balance of the ensemble. Though they play as one, individual voices combining to create a fine sense of unity, there is a discrepancy between the lively cello presence and a magnificently eloquent viola sound, and the underpowered upper registers, not least at the very top.

After this somewhat deflating experience the Mendelssohn encore, though charming in itself, struck as superfluous. But I was pleased to have heard the Simpson.

Christopher Morley

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