Iffley Music Society

The Florian Quartet

Saturday June 6th 2015 in the Church Hall Iffley

The Florian Quartet (once the Aomori) are young musicians who met as students at university or the Royal Northern College of music. They came to Iffley with a newly recruited first violin (Emmanuel Bach) and a locum second violin (Julian Milone) joining established members Anna Brigham (viola) and 'cellist Chris Terepin. Our audience could sense the freshness and stimulus in the new working relationships. The programme of Haydn, Pavel Fischer, and Beethoven was well-chosen in framing exciting new music between thoughtful presentations of the more familiar.

The imprint of a composer's Zeitgeist on his work can be overestimated by later commentators, especially those who view the past through the lens of their own times. Haydn wrote his Op 20 quartets in 1772 when the culture of the European elite was in traverse from Enlightenment through Sturm und Drang towards Romanticism. It is uncertain, however, how much the Kappelmeister to an ancient Hungarian dynasty in the remote Palace of Esterháza was - or dared to be - affected by intellectual fevers stirring the intelligensia of Vienna. Undoubtedly, as detailed in the programme notes to this brilliant concert, Op 20 was a significant development in the structure of the string quartet. A conversation between equals replaced for ever any model of a virtuoso upper register with bass-line accompaniment. (Could the skill with which Prince Esterházy, Haydn's employer played the 'cello have helped in the liberation of the lower register?) But the challenge for today's performers of Haydn's music is in the choice of sound and dynamic range. Are we to enjoy the elegant post-Baroque understatement of an 18th century salon or look forward to the turbulent gusts of 19th century romanticism? Such was Haydn's genius that either will work, and on this occasion the Florian opted for the latter. In the architecture and acoustic of Iffley Church Hall the rafters rang with joy and drama.

Pavel Fischer is violin tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music. His compositions draw powerfully on the forms and traditions of folk music, and his second string quartet prominently deploys the rhythms of jig and reel. The “Wild Mountain Thyme” of the subtitle is a Scottish ballad and the whole work is suffused with the traditional sounds of folk music from bagpipe to whistling ploughboy. This was no 19th century music picture, but acidulous modern dissonances sparkled rather than challenged. The Florian Quartet clearly revelled in the music and presented it superbly and accessibly. Many members of the audience will be looking for more of Pavel Fischer's work.

Beethoven's late quartets are a miracle and the second movement of his Op 127 must be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed. The philosophy of the Florian Quartet is not to give too much priority to developing a characteristic timbre of sound but rather to encourage each instrument to make its own statement in its own voice. This could detract from the integration and balance essential for full exegesis of Beethoven's complex interweavings, but in rehearsal and performance the Quartet responded well to the need for compromise. Perhaps first violin and 'cello tended to be more assertive than convention might prescribe, but the result was a moving and memorable performance. We shall look forward to a return of the Florian Quartet to Iffley.

Jeremy Kelvin Smith