St Christopher

Benyounes Quartet
Event 9
Friday October 18th, 8.00pm 
Little Missenden Church

Britten-centred string quartets
Robert Saxton
String Quartet no 3
Franz Schubert
String Quartet in E flat major, D87
Frank Bridge
Three Idylls
Benjamin Britten
String Quartet no 3, op94

This is an archived event from the 2013 Programme.

BENYOUNES QUARTET:  Zara Benyounes violin  Emily Holland violin  Tetsuumi Nagata viola  Kim Vaughan cello

Britten’s five-movement 3rd quartet is one of his finest achievements and his last significant composition; the work of a dying man, too weak to finish writing the score himself.  The Amadeus Quartet gave him a private performance, but he died before the première.  An extract from the Amadeus performance of the 3rd quartet appears in Tony Palmer’s film Nocturne (Event 10).

Themes from the recently-completed opera Death in Venice flow into the work, which was partly written in Venice.  The sparely-scored music is suffused from the first bars with the gentle lapping of lagoon water, quite unlike the harsh sea in Peter Grimes.  Although sometimes bleak or angry, it radiates a transcendent serenity and stillness imbued with the intense clarity of the Venetian light.  In the last movement, a hypnotic and luminous passacaglia, Britten finally seems to have made peace with death.  Norbert Brainin said, “Ben wrote his own death”.

There’s more Britten in Event 4 and Event 12.  In tomorrow’s post-film discussion Robert Saxton will give his memories of Britten, who gave him advice and encouragement in his youth.

But we now mark Robert’s own 60th birthday with his Third String Quartet, premièred to critical acclaim by the Arditti Quartet in 2011:  “a lovely kaleidoscope of harmony and texture” (Michael Church, Independent), and a “beautifully crafted work” that “should rush into the quartet repertoire” (Observer).  Its five movements chart a journey that takes in winter light, the sea and dance.

The delightful set of Idylls by Frank Bridge, Britten’s revered teacher, owes more to Debussy than English pastoralism. It has a richly expressive Adagio molto, a reflective Allegretto (with bluesy syncopations), and an animated Allegro.

Britten admired Schubert, who was only 16 when he wrote this E flat major quartet. But this is no mere prentice work – it’s attractive and confident, and thoroughly Schubertian, full of humour and good tunes, with a serene and sumptuously scored Adagio.

The Benyounes Quartet is one of the most impressive of the young British string quartets. Last year it won five prizes at the 1st International Sandor Vegh String Quartet Competition in Budapest.

Reviewers have been impressed.  The Times liked their “polish”, “tight ensemble” and “confident projection”. Others have talked of their “sureness of intonation” and “discipline”.

“Schubert’s Quartettsatz… emerged from a whispering, almost ponticello beginning into something thrillingly full throated ” (Tim Homfray, The Strad)

“They played here with passion and confidence: the ferocious virtuosic demands of the Bartok were negotiated with aplomb” (N H Reeve, Seen and Heard International)

For more information on the Benyounes Quartet click here.

Concert sponsored by Roy K Phillips