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Kate Suthers and Cassi Hamilton, violin;  Matt Maguire, viola;  Antonio Novalis, ‘cello.

Beethoven, Quartet in F minor, Op 95;  Hugo Wolf Italian Serenade;  Webern, Langsamer Satz;  Mozart, Quartet in B flat, K 458 ‘The Hunt’.

‘Great control and dynamic subtlety … their playing at once separated and integrated..’ The Strad, April 2014


Beethoven String Quartet Op.95 ‘Serioso’

I. Allegro con brio
II. Allegretto ma non troppo
III. Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
IV. Larghetto espressivo; Allegretto agitato; Allegro

Beethoven wrote sixteen string quartets over the course of nearly thirty years and, due to progressive style and invention that Beethoven achieved, they are often divided into ‘early’ (Op.18), ‘middle’ (Op.59 and 74) and ‘late’ (Op.127 onwards).

The only quartet that doesn’t quite fit into those delineations is this one, Op.95.  It has moved on from the triumphant mood of the ‘middle’ quartets but hasn’t quite arrived at the extraordinary language of the ‘late’ quartets. It is also the only one of Beethoven’s quartets that he nicknamed himself.  As nicknames go, ‘Serioso’is more than apt for this somewhat tortured piece.  It struggles to comfortably project any one mood, and the predominant sense is one of oppression.  The material of the piece is tightly coiled, often as if trapped – figures dart upwards only to collapse, theydig downwards only to claw their way back up. The opening gesture of the first movement for example does both, then stops dead in its tracks as if to assess the situation. The phrase that answers throws itself against the bars of its cage, desperate to escape, to no avail, and so the piece continues.

Following the turbulence of the first movement, the second provides an island of serenity although it is also has a searching quality, winding through a fugatosubject and ending in a sort of suspended animation that is shattered by the third movement.  The eponymous seriosomovement switches between the characters of the first two movements – explosive material juxtaposed with quiet chorales, with the stronger character apparently winning out.

The fourth movement has no further resolve. The opening larghettocarries the weight of the world and opens into an uneasy allegretto that loops endlessly back on itself until, finally, the unexpected coda emerges in the major key and the music almost chases itself to its close.

WolfItalian Serenade

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) was a composer at a time when classical music was searching for new horizons.  Brahms was meticulously trying to follow in the footsteps of Beethoven, Wagner was throwing out all the rule books but the shared overall goal seems to be an increased intensity of expression.  It was this that inspired Wolf too.  He composed very sporadically, bouts of depression and illness would sometimes result in months of inactivity, yet he produced hundreds of lieder, the form for which he is best known. Lieder are highly expressive art songs which, instead of following a strict template like sonata form, relied on programmatic material.  There is an implied narrativewithin the form, but the music remains free.

The same holds true for the form of the Italian Serenade, composed in 1887.  Wolf wrote hardly any instrumental music, a handful of works of which this is indisputably his best known.  The piece is very short, barely seven minutes long; it was originally planned to have three movements, but Wolf ended up writing a concise work in one. Wolf continued to experiment with this piece, expanding it for string orchestra in 1892 and drafting additional movements, of which a few sketches survive.  It is an incredibly playful piece.  The recurring theme is gently jolly (although slightly tipsy with it’s hiccoughs and slurring), and the episodes interspersed are mocking in their amorous, melodramatic and tip-toeing characters.  It’s a tongue-in-cheek gem of a piece that you can’t help enjoying.


WebernLangsamer Satz

Anton Webern (1883-1945) is probably best known as one of the early experimenters in atonality.  He was the star pupil of Arnold Schoenberg,

the creator of the twelve-tone system. Webern’s compositions are concise, distilled and select, indeed his entire published compositional output fits onto three CDs.  Further compositions were discovered after his death, most of which were early works, and amongst these manuscripts was Langsamer Satz.

The title literally means ‘slow movement’. Webern wrote it in 1905 after a holiday with the woman whom he would later marry.  With that in mind, it’s not hard to hear this piece as, simply, love music. Whilst some of Webern’s later works are comparatively challenging in their material, Langsammer Satz  shows how firmly Webern was rooted in the Viennese tradition. The post-romantic harmonic language reveals the sway of Wagner, Strauss andBrahms and was surely influenced by Schoenberg’s early string sextet Verklaerte Nacht.

It’s not a big piece, about ten minutes in length and endlessly expressive in that time.  Almost all the material is melodic, even the accompanying figures have a singing quality.  With such beautiful music, the only thing to do is to listen and enjoy.

Mozart String Quartet K458 ‘TheHunt’

I. Allegro vivace assai
II. Menuetto and Trio. Moderato
III. Adagio
IV.Allegro assai

Beethoven wrote sixteen quartets over nearly thirty years, Mozart wrote twenty three quartets over twenty years. Haydn, so-called ‘Father of the String Quartet’, wrote sixty eight quartets!  It took him almost forty years to do it, but this huge output and therefore influence on the form is one of the reasons why Mozart dedicated six of his own quartets to Haydn.  This, the nineteenth of Mozart’s quartets is one of that set of six.

Written in Bb major, the piece opens a bit like a nursery rhyme with two sets of couplets.  This galloping rhythm has earned this quartet it’s nickname, the ‘Hunt’, and the first movement proceeds in an uncomplicated manner.  The whole quartet in fact is quite straightforward in it’s good-natured musical offering.  The second movement is a noble minuet whose poise is ruffled by the playful trio.

The slow movement is serene, and beautiful in its calm inevitability.  It shows both warmth and shadowy coolness but there is no tension between the colour changes. The final movement returns to the laughing, good-naturedness of the opening movement.  It teases and scampers along playfully, occasionally employing the quartet in pairs in mock battle but never maintaining a serious character for long. It’s a great ending not just of a wonderful quartet, but also as a really uplifting end to a concert. 

About The Artesian Quartet

Australian born violinist Kate Suthersis Section Leader of Second Violins at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  She works with BBCNOW, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and Aurora Orchestra, and over the next twelve months will be collaborating with Scottish Ensemble and the contemporary Swedish ensemble, Andersson Dance, in a project combining music and movement. When time allows, she really enjoys cooking, baking and reading.  Kate plays a Marchetti violin from c.1890, kindly on loan from the Harrison Frank Foundation.

Cassi Hamiltonis based in London and enjoys a varied freelance career with symphony orchestras such as the Philharmonia Orchestra, CBSO and the LSO. She also performs regularly with the Aurora orchestra amongst other chamber orchestras and ensembles and will be joining them for their BBC Prom concert this summer.  Away from the violin Cassi loves to get back up North for some fresh air and to visit her horse, Donald. Her violin is a 2009 Glen Collins.

MattMaguireis Sub-Principal viola of the City of London Sinfonia, and plays regularly with the Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, and as guest principal viola of both London Mozart Players and Manchester Camerata.  He works additionally with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, has been principal viola of Opera at Holland Park.  He can also be heard on many film and television soundtracks.

Matt studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Martin Outram and is a former member of the European Union Youth Orchestra. He plays on a 2006 Helen Michetschläger instrument.

António Novais  is based in Berlin and is focusing his career between Germany and the UK, and between chamber and orchestral music. As an orchestral player, António enjoys a career mostly in opera and ballet music, recently becoming Sub-Principal of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Birmingham Royal Ballet, as well as working with Opera North and the Ulster Orchestra.  In Berlin, António is a freelance session player and explores different combinations of chamber music, performing in churches and music clubs across town.  António plays a ‘cello by Bernard Camurat, 1996.

For more information, or to get in touch, please visit their website at www.artesianquartet.com

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