Johanna Messner ('cello) and the Hohenloher Quartet.

St Mary’s Church Iffley, June 13th 2014.


Johanna Messner (second from right) with the members of the Hohenloher Quartet

St Mary’s Church was full to capacity for the concert of the Iffley Music Society on 13th June. ‘Cellist Johanna Messner, well known in the Oxford region as performer and teacher, was joined by an excellent German ensemble, the Hohenloher String Quartet, with whom she has frequently performed in the past. The programme was an anthology of some of the greatest works in chamber music.

Johanna messnerThe evening opened with a performance of the Fifth Suite for Solo ‘Cello in C minor. Composed by J. S. Bach around 1720 during his stint as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, the work comprises a prelude followed by five dance movements, calling on the performer to bring out the differences in style and mood of each dance.  This was done in masterful fashion by Johanna Messner whose instrument was richly and powerfully amplified by the ample acoustic of the church. From the first bars of the Prelude to the last bars of the Gigue one was swept along by the total commitment of this excellent performer.

It was an inspired choice to place the Shostakovich 7th String Quartet next in the programme, thus gaining the maximum effect from the contrast of style and key (F sharp minor). Written in 1960 and dedicated to the composer’s former wife, Nina, one couldn’t help wondering whether the work was intended as a portrait of the woman with whom his relationship had had its ups and downs - to say the least. The Hohenloher Quartet (ably led by Magdalene Kautter) gave an unforgettable performance, making the most of the wide variety of emotions contained in the music, and once again the acoustic of the church ensured that even the quietest muted strings were clearly audible. It is only to be regretted that this tightly constructed work is so short – a mere 12 minutes.

After the interval, Johanna Messner joined the Hohenloher Quartet in Schubert’s magisterial String Quintet in C major, composed in 1828, the year of the composer’s death. The unusual choice of two ‘cellos for this quintet permits a range of colouristic effects little short of astonishing, and the perfect intonation of the players gave particular pleasure. The great length of some of Schubert’s works can be a problem for some listeners but that was clearly not the case on this occasion. There was complete concentration amongst the audience and the concert concluded with an explosion of enthusiastic applause and gratitude for this most uplifting concert.

Peter Billington


Dietrich Schüz (violin), Wolfgang Hermann-Kautter (viola), Magdalene Kautter (violin), Jörg Baier ('cello)