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Kreutzer Quartet at Wilton's Music Hall

WINTER JOURNEY - David Matthews Composer Portrait

Matthews - Two Quartets, Winter Journey for solo violin, Schumann, Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai arr. for string quartet
Beethoven - Grosse Fuge

Kreutzer Quartet: Peter Sheppard Skærved, Mihailo Trandafilovski, Morgan Goff & Neil Heyde

Wednesday 30th January at 7.30pm [In association with Toccata Classics]

Last night's auspicious concert at Wilton's, featuring string quartets of David Matthews, launched a series of appearances there by the Kreutzer Quartet, which is currently reaching great heights in their performances of contemporary music with their line-up of expert string players, each very individual but who have 'gelled' into one of the finest ensembles specialising in non-standard repertoire before the public.

Importantly, in this series the Kreutzers are supporting Wilton's towards their building appeal for £3.5 million to save one of the world's oldest surviving grand music halls, one of the neediest and worthwhile such causes in the country (Grade II*).

Superficially in advanced dilapidation, I am assured that Wilton's is structurally sound, with a magnificent interior, its gallery supported by original barley-sugar columns. Wilton's has for us provided a memorable venue for many unforgettable evenings of concert and theatre in recent years, notably by Broomhill Opera when they were the company in residence, e g:



The present regime (director Frances Mayhew) has used every penny-pinching ingenuity to make it the most welcoming and comfortable theatre in David London (equalled perhaps only by RADA's well endowed base, where we are regular patrons). New to Wilton's one of the Kreutzer musicians opined after the David Matthews concert that for him it has become his "favourite venue world-wide" for playing chamber music !

The acoustic is quite remarkable, especially hearing a quartet there the day after a recital by a world-class rated string quartet* at Wigmore Hall.

Two of Matthews' quartets were the central items in a hugely enjoyable concert, introduced in informal discussion with the composer by Peter Sheppard Skærved [pictured rehearsing Winter Journey].

Matthews' chamber music is both readily accessible and strikingly individual, with surprises along the way in each movement. He has a long fruitful relationship with Schumann's music, which has generated some of his most important works, and it is good new that this concert was something of an introduction to a complete recording of Matthews' seven string quartets.

On this hearing, they clearly merit their return into the limelight. **

The Kreutzers have Beethoven's Grosse Fuge Op. 133 firmly in their repertoire (in January 2007 I wrote of their concert at Conway Hall "for really modern sounding music we had a forthright account of Beethoven's Grosse Fugue") and on the present occasion Peter Sheppard explained its presence in this programme historically; Joachim had refused to play it throught his life because he thought it utterly mad, and only fairly recently has it finally become accepted in the canon as an alternative finale for Op 130.
For the Kreutzers it stands alone as one of the most satisfying and exhilarating possible finishers for a contemporary music concert.

Try to get to Wilton's on 26th February for "four radically inventive East Europeans" (one of them the Kreutzers' second violinist) and, from an earlier generation, a quartet of Rejcha, who is also featured in Toccata Classics Kreutzer Quartet recording schedule.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* See reviews of Zehetmair Quartet 2000/2008

** Volume 1 of David Matthews Complete String Quartets has been released by Toccata Classics
[TOCC 0058].

Those chosen (Nos 4, 6 & 10, composed 1981-2001) give a good introduction to the eleven; Matthews is a prolific tonal composer who attempts to integrate the musical language of the present with the past, with seven symphonies etc amongst his over 100 works.

They made for compelling listening and should appeal to all who don't reject the tradition from Beethoven to Schoenberg's "great First Quartet" and through Bartok and Tippett's, strong influences on Matthews' journey. The 10th incorporates notated Australian birdsong - their magpies, unlike the British counterparts, have "melodious, often diatonic songs"...

The recording by Amazing Sounds at the Royal Academy of Music in London is - well, amazing. Excellent autobiographical and programme notes by the composer himself enhance the value of this CD. Alongside the cover image, I reproduce the one in the tray which, by design or serendipitous accident is perfectly placed without being spoilt by the central housing, "like a target on a dartboard"!

Recommended and looking forward to the completion of the set.

PGW (April 2010)

Matthews Quartet no 12

Wiltons Music Hall, London, 24 February 2011

This fine concert will be remembered for the world premiere of a significant new quartet by David Matthews, his No 12.

As Peter SS explained beforehand, it embeds several lighter movements inside its mainstructure, something like Beethoven did in his Op 130.

Whilst listening one thinks, in passing, of the latter's Op 59/3 and the Grosse Fuge (there is some hectic fugal writing) and Piazzola and Mahler have a look-in, not to speak of birdsong to finish (Matthews is a keen ornithologist).

At 43 mins in this performance, it makes a bid for "modern" music to be central in a concert, and not relegated to a 20 mins or less token spot, which many promoters want. Definitely a major addition to the contemporary quartet repertoire, it will need rehearings to entirely come to terms with its complex structure and a CD from Toccata Classcs is anticipated.

A precious Beethoven piano Bagatelle was the starter, sounding beautiful on the quartet, and it prepared us for the Webern Op 9 set of tiny pieces whih finish almost before they begin...

Played with total concentration and receiving like listening, they are far more effective live than on CD, even allowing for passing trains and conversation in the foyer and bar outside, which were less disturbing than might be expected.

To end the whole concert, the grandiose Elgar quintet, which might have been made for Wiltons in its heyday [see photos above]. Over the top, and it outstays its welcome, but it was given in a well balanced account with Elgar specialist David Owen Norris playing a shiny brown baby grand piano on the Wiltons stage.

Peter Grahame Woolf


Photos: Frances Mayhew