Bonnici String Quartet

Olivier & Rosalind Bonnici

Steve Terepin

Jacqueline Johnson

Church Hall, Saturday November 14th 2015

Bonnici Quartet

The Bonnici String Quartet is a well-established group of local musicians, three of whom live in Oxford. In spite of stormy weather for the evening, the Quartet and their programme attracted a large audience to Iffley Church Hall.

The concert began with the D minor quartet K421 by Mozart. This quartet stands apart from the other five ‘Haydn’ quartets by its restless intensity. At the outset the quartet avoided hurrying the allegro moderato first movement. Their experience as an ensemble was displayed in illuminating Mozart’s complex scoring. In the andante and minuet movements, the Quartet contrived to exhibit Mozart’s ingenious harmony, together with special effects of colour such as the vivid pizzicato in the trio section of the minuet. For the variation finale the Quartet reverted to the moderate tempo of the opening movement, and with sensitive adjustments to the contrasting variation colours, sustained the dynamism of this remarkable work.

The first half ended with the attractive Spanish work La Oración del Torero (the Prayer of the Bullfighter) written in 1925 by Joaquín Turina. The musical portrayal of Spanish life and folklore is commonly the product of French composers, and no doubt Turina was influenced by the decade up to 1914 he spent in Paris. The piece lasted eight minutes in a single colourful movement, concluding with a lyrical passage for the prayer. The Quartet provided an entertaining short analysis of the work before their vivid performance.

After the interval there was a single work, Dvořák’s quartet opus 96. This has the name "American", both because it was composed in 1893 during Dvořák’s lengthy visit to the United States, and because of some local colour in the thematic material. After the severity of the Mozart quartet, the Dvořák piece was, in its nature, a good deal more relaxed. Much of its course comprised a sequence of lyrical melody, of which Dvořák had an endless supply. In this work, led by the spirit of the composer, the Quartet shifted their emphasis from four-part intricacy to the shifting colour of melody and its harmonic support. While three of the movements echo some of the energy of Czech dance, the Bonnici Quartet also displayed the nostalgic colours of the powerful lento movement. It was a warm performance which ended a varied concert from this talented group.

Tim Brunton