This year’s Highgate Festival ended with a flourish on Sunday night – a programme of Schubert and Debussy in the Highgate School chapel from the London Chamber Ensemble: Madeleine Mitchell, Gordon McKay, Bridget Carey and Joseph Spooner and a full house of very enthusiastic but suitably socially distanced Highgaters.
Completing a hugely varied week of chamber music, the LCE first played Schubert’s poignant ‘Rosamunde’ quartet.
The ‘Rosamunde’ was the culmination of Schubert’s quartet compositions, twelve of which were composed while he was still a teenager and played by his own family quartet, his two brothers on violins, himself on viola and his father on cello. This quartet in A minor, the quartet in D minor and the Octet in F for wind and strings were all composed in 1824, only four years before the Schubert’s early death, aged only 31.
Here is our quartet playing that famous second movement.
After a short break the London Chamber Ensemble went on to Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor.
This was Debussy’s only string quartet and was written in 1893 when he was 31, the age at which Schubert had died. Debussy’s ‘fresh slant on musical architecture utilized the “cyclical” method advocated by Franz Liszt, and carried on by Franck and his disciples, a method characterized by the recurrence of certain themes or motifs throughout a work. Debussy combined this cyclical idea with a light-handed variation technique that carried his motto theme through subtle ongoing transformations — an approach that replaced the traditional contrast and development techniques’. (Thanks to Hollywood Bowl.)
Here is the last movement.
Haydn and Mendelssohn on Friday night
And on Friday evening, again in the Highgate School chapel, we had been treated to two more quartets, Haydn’s Opus 76 No 2 and Mendelssohn’s Opus 13 No 2, this time from the Alacris Quartet: Susie Griffin, Elise Scheurer, Charles Whittaker who is hidden behind Benedict Swindells and his cello.
Opus 76 was the last complete set of string quartets that Haydn composed and was written at some point in 1797/8 while he was also working on The Creation. The quartets were published almost simultaneously in London and Vienna and ‘are among Haydn’s most ambitious chamber works, deviating more than their predecessors from the standard sonata form and each emphasising thier thematic continuity through the seamless and near continual exchange of motifs between teh instruments.’ Quartet No 2 is knowns as the Fifths in reference to the falling perfect fifths at its start. Here is a short exerpt.
And finally to Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was only 18 when he wrote his String Quartet no 2 but he was already ‘an experienced composer of chamber music’; his first piano quartet was published when he was 13.
Opus 13 was composed in 1827 the year of Beethoven’s death. Although Beethoven’s works were little appreciated at the time, Mendelssohn had studied Beethoven’s scores, especially for his late string quartets, and Opus 13 ‘shows their powerful influence, evident in the advanced harmonic language, tightly knit counterpoint, recitative passages and the development of motivic fragments’. His inspiration had come from a love song titled “Frage” (“Question”) which he had written a few months earlier.
Here are our quartet playing the second movement.
But a wonderful week for all concerned – the first time not only that most of the audiences had been to a live concert in 15 months but the first time that many of the players had played to a live audience in all that time. Truly something to celebrate!
(For a clip from the earlier concerts, see the previous post.)