Carducci String Quartet
Carducci String Quartet; John Innes Centre, Colney, Norwich,
February 2017. Reviewed by Tony Cooper
Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music pulled off a major coup by commissioning London-born composer, Kemal Yusuf, to write a piece for the Carducci Quartet, his first offering in the string-quartet genre.
A composer who possesses a unique ear, Yusuf (who is of Turkish descent) has a catholic approach to music which has seen him active in the field of musical theatre while he also works as a jazz pianist and has written film scores.
His new piece, entitled ‘Oyun’ (meaning ‘Game’ in Turkish), is dedicated to his late mentor, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, whom, I’m sure, would have been immensely proud of his achievement. In fact, Max was the first to see Yusuf’s sketches and was instrumental in helping the younger composer to formulate and nurture his initial ideas.
An exploration of the interplay of different musical materials, ‘Oyun’ – a single-movement work lasting about 18 minutes and influenced by Debussy’s ‘Jeux’ – is a piece the composer describes as ‘misbehaving’. The only point of stability comes from a lush and quickly modulating chorale pitched in the higher register towards the end of the piece. It’s a great moment of strength and sturdiness in the work before it returns to its mischievous and carefree ways.
Despite the work’s fragmented nature – which sees each player afforded the opportunity of demonstrating their musical prowess in one or more solo passages against the other members of the quartet holding on a long-extended chord – the tone of the instruments they produced created a rich and warm array of tonal colour demonstrating the dexterity and skill of the players of this fine quartet who are no strangers to Norwich.
When NNCM commissioned Gordon Crosse to write a piece as part of the Britten centenary celebrations in 2013, resulting in ‘Blyth Postcards’, the première fell to the Carduccis. Therefore, it seems appropriate that the quartet should be chosen to give the first performance of Yusuf’s latest work.
And for last year’s Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Yusuf wrote a large-scale orchestral/choral piece entitled ‘Cain’ premièred by the Norfolk & Norwich Festival Chorus and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of David Parry.
In addition to his compositional work, Yusuf – initially self-taught but who progressed to the Royal Academy of Music under the tutelage of Simon Bainbridge – founded the London Graduate Orchestra in 2013 with conductor, Claire Lampon, offering graduates the opportunity of performing in a quality orchestra.
The Carducci’s invigorating and entertaining programme also included brilliant readings of Haydn’s D major quartet, Webern’s Langsamersatz and Beethoven’s F minor quartet, known as the ‘Serioso’, written, unbelievably, in Vienna whilst the city was under seige by Napoleon.
The quartet – comprising Matthew Denton, Michelle Fleming (violins), Eoin Schmidt-Martin (viola) and Emma Denton (cello) – gets its name from Castagneto-Carducci, a commune in the province of Livorno in the Italian region of Tuscany, where the quartet founded a festival a few years ago. But closer to home they preside over their own chamber-music weekend held in May at Highnam in Gloucestershire.
TONY COOPER is QR’s Opera Critic