The Mavron Quartet at Leighton Buzzard library theatre

Welsh wizardry with strings

On Saturday 13th April 2013, Leighton Buzzard Music Club held its final concert of this season. The evening was a fitting culmination of the high quality chamber music that has been played, monthly, since last September.

This final flourish was provided by the Mavron Quartet: four young women comprising Wales’s leading string quartet, being the eponymous Christiana Mavron on first violin, Katy Rowe, on second violin, Niamh Ferris on viola and Lucy Simmonds on cello. This concert came at the end of their tenth anniversary year as a quartet. How can they can possibly have been weaving their musical spells for so long, unless they cut their baby teeth on their bows? However, the string of accolades, residencies, commissions and collaborations listed in the programme provides supporting evidence. These are four young women who make a lot of music.

The way a string quartet sets up is so cosy, so inviting; it positively beckons an audience in. There are the closely set chairs, inclined towards each other in a semicircle, the music is already in place on the stands, all just waiting to be given life by the players. But even that is nothing without the chemistry necessary to bring the best out of the players, their instruments and the music they have chosen. As they play their eyes constantly flash between instrument, companions, music. This particular quartet has grown up playing together and my goodness it shows. Like a single multi-part entity they produced a sound which was impeccable as to timing, complementary, supportive and reinforcing. This enabled them to bring wonderful dynamics into their playing. Their ability with light and shade must be one of their trademark strengths.

The programme was a sandwich of classical German with a modern, minimalist filling. We began with Haydn’s Quartet in B Minor (Op 33, No 1). This begins lightly and brightly with an allegro moderato, unfolded with that tremendous light and shade. Christiana Mavron played first violin with brio and great expression, leading us into the lilting scherzo, where she shared the limelight with the cello. The andante was a stately, melodic stroll towards the final presto. During this last the four women bent over their instruments, bowing wrists cocked, as if casting a spell indeed – perfectly together, as ever.

Next we were introduced to Quartet: Threaded Light which the quartet commissioned from a Welsh composer, Rhian Samuel. In seven tiny movements this paints a musical picture of the Aberdovey estuary near the composer’s home, Little linking pieces entitled ‘Twine’ develop the notion of threads broken, unbroken and stretched. Three ‘Twines’ are wrapped around the interior movements, ‘Late Sun’, ‘Glinting Stars’, Foxtrot Gleam’ and ‘Estuary by Moonlight’. The ‘Twine’ movements sounded like nothing so much as mice scuttling along a skirting board pursued by a cat. In a musical way (ah, the restrictions of trying to convey the music of a concert in words!).

The final piece of the first half of the concert was by Philip Glass – String Quartet No 2 ‘Company’. Philip Glass is a man whose riffs are instantly recognisable. And, to be frank, unless one is a fan of minimalism the repetitive riffs quickly pall. However, it was fascinating to spend seven minutes watching how this music is produced and learning to love Mr Glass just a little bit better.

After the interval, however, came the real treat. We sat back down with contented sighs, to enjoy watching and listening to Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’, Quartet in D minor, (D810). The radio and CDs are both marvellous ways to enjoy music – but the extra dimension added by having the music created anew in front of one makes it something special. And if your spine isn’t tingled by ‘Death and the Maiden’ you must be dead. It is glorious. It is relentless. It has THAT marvellous, inescapable melody. And it is forty minutes long. We learned that it is a difficult piece, but the difficulties were lightly borne. The joyous rollicking theme of the allegro began, with its undercurrent of sadness, and we were hooked. The quartet played the following, funereal, andante as if they owned it. Wringing every drop of life from the music. The opening attack on the scherzo was fine indeed. By this point the players were snatching opportunities to wipe a brow, a hand. The final presto was magisterial.

We were even treated to a little encore – ‘a little Welsh surprise’ – when they’d got their breath back. How pleasant to be reminded – by the occasional Scotch snap in this last piece – what a diversity of music exists in Britain for stringed instruments. And how marvellous to have enjoyed such a high quality evening of it live.

The Mavron Quartet have a website here : http://www.mavronquartet.co.uk/.  They’re also on Facebook.

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