Music wins in ‘Brexit Blues’

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“Brexit Blues”… was the concert just as confusing as the current Brexit situation? Not at all. The concert was just wonderful. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / CIMF, Concert 14 – “Brexit Blues”, Fitters’ Workshop, May 8. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

THE “Brexit Blues” concert was conceived nearly 12 months ago, long before it could have been envisaged that the UK/European political drama would still be playing out as the 2019 CIMF took place.   

The inventive programming plan was to contrast the British side of the argument with the Europeans’. The British Brodsky Quartet were put in to bat first for England via the music of Elgar, whilst the French Quatuor Voce, representing the European team, fired back with the Cesar Franck’s (a Belgian with a German name who wrote in France) “Piano Quintet in F Minor”.   

A few interesting crossovers were evident. And just to confuse matters, it turns out that Elgar actually loved German music and was more famous in Germany than at home in England. Franck, by contrast, was born in Liege in Belgium but, at that time, the city was part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Later in life he fell in love with a woman of Irish descent. To complete the confused state of play, somewhat like a mucked-up Brexit situation, the French quartet has a very English cello player in its ranks!

So, with all of that intermingling, was the concert just as confusing as the current Brexit situation? No, no, not at all. The concert was just wonderful.

The Brodsky Quartet opened with three short salon pieces dating from the 1890s. Ironically they all had French titles. “Chanson de matin” commenced proceedings in outstanding fashion with the beautiful melody, played by Gina McCormack, riding high over a solid, well balanced backing foundation from the remainder of the quartet.  

“La capricieuse” was light and fluffy and was always moving forward with purpose and intent. It was particularly notable for the most meticulous and distinct attention to articulation and detail. Every single semi-quaver was discernible and of equal value and importance. What a joy to hear such precision. “Chanson de Nuit” was played with great peace and clarity, its calm reflective beauty quite enchanting.

Elgar’s “String Quartet in E Minor” doesn’t include the lovely memorable tunes of the salon pieces so the work demands more concentrated listening.  The opening “Allegro moderato” moved with a real richness of sound and the interplay between the four musicians was flawless.

The “poco andante” second movement does meander about in a peaceful wander but it also produced the highlight of the evening – a sublime ending with fantastic dynamic, rhythmic and intonation control, which was quite spine tingling.

The teams changed over bringing the French to the crease. The first movement of the Quintet (Russian pianist Vyacheslav Ggryaznov joined to complete the multicultural picture) opened quietly but then a dramatically transitioned to fast tempo with crashing waves of exciting (and big) sound – a sudden contrast from the first innings English countryside.   

The second movement, lento, was eerie as it grew in passion and intensity before fading away. It was wonderfully controlled with precise passing of melodic phrases. The final “allegro” also noted “con fuoco” (with fire), and the flames were bright and hot as notes flew with sparks from fingers and bows. The embers slowly subsided with a flickering fireplace easily imaginable.

Game over! As Richie Benaud may have said: “No losers in this Brexit deal, music the clear winner.”

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