Vanbrugh Quartet at the National Concert Hall, 28th November 2014

The last of four concerts given by the Vanbrugh Quartet and curated by Ian Wilson, tonight’s programme has ‘Solitudes’ as its theme with Wilson’s latest string quartet, entitled Im Schatten [in shadows], matched with Schubert’s ‘Rosamunde’ quartet. Introducing the concert, Wilson talks about the value of solitude and the role of singularity in his quartet, which is based on the earlier Eigenschatten [self-shadows] (2004) for solo violin and tape playback. In the string quartet version, completed in 2010 for the CD recording ‘In Shadows’ (Riverrun, 2011) and performed live for the first time tonight, the parts of the soloist and tape have been transcribed for the first and second violins respectively, while the viola and cello parts offer a reflection of the first violin’s line. The effect of this sonic hall-of-mirrors is one of shimmering, glistening surfaces, built out of oscillating patterns and the extensive use of string harmonics. The Vanbrugh Quartet’s disciplined playing brings out a delicate lightness and transparency in the work.

Wilson is not the only modern composer to programme his own works alongside those of Schubert – Benjamin Britten did it too – but the effect here is perhaps not as illuminating as one would like. The experience of playing Wilson’s work seems to somehow undermine the quartet’s performance of the Schubert, which misses a sense of engagement. The opening is refined and well-balanced, but the occasional loss of focus suggests that the quartet seems less at home with this piece, and a feeling of cool detachment is especially felt in the melodic second movement. By the time the fourth and final movement is reached a sense of warm geniality begins to emerge, with a greater degree of cohesiveness and ease of expression. The icy atmosphere finally cast aside we are allowed a glimpse into the bittersweet lyricism of this work. One can only hope that the ensemble will return to this work at a later date, in a different context.


Ian Wilson: ‘im Schatten’, String Quartet no. 11

Franz Schubert: String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, D.804 ‘Rosamunde’