THE CASTALIAN QUARTET
SINI SIMONEN: First Violin
DANIEL ROBERTS: Second Violin
CHARLOTTE BONNETON: Viola
CHRISTOPHER GRAVES: Cello
THE SANCTUARY, QUEEN’S CROSS CHURCH, ABERDEEN
Monday 15th January, 2018
Monday’s performance by the Castalian Quartet ushered in the new year in glorious style for Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts. In today’s programme note, the Castalians were lauded as a “multiple prizewinning quartet”. Their playing in the opening work of the concert, Haydn’s Quartet in d minor op. 76 no. 2 only served to confirm that reputation.
This was a wonderfully clean, clear performance in which the instrumental balance was as near perfection as it is possible to be. First violinist Sini Simonen’s spirited playing of the rapid semi-quaver passages that served to decorate the basic theme was so exciting – fresh and electrifying. Cellist Christopher Graves made his contribution to this first movement sing out with exceptional warmth of tone on cello. The other two players, second violinist Daniel Roberts and violist Charlotte Bonneton coloured in the central core of the music handsomely.
It was Sini Simonen once again who drew my attention in the second movement with the elegance and poise of her playing to which the others responded graciously. The third movement, known as the “Witches Minuet” had just the right sense of strange allure while the finale with its pauses and momentary tweets from the first violin had Haydn tickling our fancy with his customary good humour.
The following work was totally different. It was the only string quartet composed by Henri Dutilleux. In this quartet no instrument really stood out from the others, or to look at it another way they all stood out, here there and everywhere. All sorts of string tricks and techniques came through in this music. Entitled “Ainsi la Nuit”, or in English “Such is the night”, it really had an intense spirit music of night music. The opening Nocturne for instance was graphic in its atmospheric power. Being that it was played straight through without a pause, it was difficult to say where each section began or ended but their titles such as “Miroir d’espace”, “Constellations” or “Temps suspendu” were themselves powerfully imaginative and entrancing. Imagination was, I think, the codeword of this whole performance and it held me transfixed from start to finish.
There was just one work after the interval but it was in every way a mighty one. Beethoven’s String Quartet in a minor op. 132 begins in a strangely searching way. It took a moment for the first violin to break out of a series of questioning rising and falling semitones. It took off in a torrent of whirling notes but it was the cello that presented the main theme and Christopher Graves and his cello were really at the core of this first movement. Fine playing indeed!
The irregular rhythms and expressive surges in the second movement were played with a special lightness of touch that suggested little gusts of summer wind and then this was interrupted by something like a rustic dance. I was reminded just a bit of the Pastorale Symphony.
The meditative chorale melody of the Adagio played largely without vibrato in order to capture the sense of ancient church music suggested for me the closeted ambience of an ancient dark church into which the short andante passages cast welcome streams of sunlight.
The fourth movement with its march was bright and lively in this performance leading us into the finale which although full of strong and busy expressiveness still had a remnant of the sense of perplexity with which the quartet opens. The Castalian Quartet gave an epic performance of this music overcoming its emotional as well as its musical challenges and thoroughly captivating their audience.