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Beethoven Begins: Birdsong Bagatelles – Wilton’s Music Hall, London

Reviewer: Michael Gray

[rating:4]

beethoven_birdsongTaking advantage of the vampire Count’s night off [Mark Bruce’s dance Dracula is in residence at Wilton’s this month] the Kreutzer Quartet with the fifth of their programmes based around Beethoven’s opus 18 set.

Curated by their leader, Peter Sheppard Skærved, this sequence looked at lightness, and elegance both in surface and in structure.

Two guests this time: Emily Beynon, one of our finest flautists, and composer Edward Cowie, whose “In Flight Music” received its world première in the new version for 2013.

Like much of his work, this intricately crafted quartet draws inspiration from the natural world. In this case Australia for the Hang Gliders – the first violin soaring over running, fluttering figures, with a delicate descent at the end. France for the Hummingbird Hawk Moths, a scherzo with a hint of the salon in the trills, and again an unexpectedly throwaway ending. The Dordogne for raptors gliding on thermals, reminiscent of the hang gliders of the opening, with graceful glissandi to finish. The substantial slow movement, Vapour Trails, was an ethereal meditation with the legato melody often given to cello or viola, and pizzicato sometimes shadowing the tune.

The Cowie was surrounded by a variety of works from Mozart as well as Beethoven. No airiness in Beethoven’s E minor Prelude and [very forceful] Fugue for two violins and cello. The creative empathy that binds these four players was especially evident in Beethoven’s A Major quartet [no. 5 of the opus 18 set]: elegantly athletic, with a jovial rustic march in the Andante.

A wonderful affinity, too, between violin and flute for the joyful G major duo, much appreciated by the enthusiastic Wilton’s crowd.

Beynon also gave us two Mozart Flute Quartets – the A Major K295, its theme and variation treating the soloist like a coloratura soprano, and, to end the evening, the familiar K285 in D Major, the spicy joie de vivre of the outer movements separated by the sorbet Adagio, an exquisite flute line over pizzicato strings.

Wilton’s has a fine acoustic for chamber music, adding bloom without blurring contours. The place was packed for this most satisfying programme; the last in the series is on November 12th.

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