THE SANCTUARY, QUEEN’S CROSS CHURCH
Monday 29th November 2021
MARMEN STRING QUARTET:
Johannes Marmén: First violin
Laia Braun: Second violin
Bryony Gibson-Cornish: Viola
Sinéad O’Halloran: Cello
Haydn, Quartet in Bb, Op.64, No.3
Brahms, Quartet in c minor Op.51, No.1
The fourth of our eight concerts this season was given by the Marmen String Quartet, formed in 2013 at the Royal College of Music in London. They are fast becoming a big name in chamber music. This year, they played at the Proms. First violinist Johannes Marmén comes originally from Sweden. Laia Braun is the second violin of the Quartet. He comes from Switzerland. The viola player, Bryony Gibson-Cornish originally from New Zealand studied at the Julliard School while cellist, Sinéad O’Halloran, as her name would suggest, is from Ireland. Though from very different parts of the world, London’s Royal College of Music has melded them together to create a truly magnificent musical unit as was amply proved in their two performances for Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts on Monday.
The Quartet are a thoroughly dedicated ensemble, managing to get to Aberdeen today, triumphing over our British weather which did everything it could to get in their way. They arrived at Queen’s Cross Church at 2pm for the first of two concerts which began at 3pm. They looked and sounded fresh, full of sizzling energy, as they got stuck enthusiastically into Haydn’s Quartet in B flat, Op.64, No.3. Their red-hot performance easily blew away any remnants of our cold dark weather.
The first movement opened with a sense of open air and birdsong especially from the clear singing tones of the first violin. Then the cello began to take us on a galloping ride across the musical landscape. There were delightful melodic exchanges between the first violin and the viola.
The attractive Adagio featured song-like duetting between the two violins but all four instruments gave their best to this second movement. This was great, but it was the two final movements that really shone bright. The Minuet Allegretto was so full of fun. It was not just played, it was acted out like a game of musical badminton where the players were having such a great time together, and of course, like magic, they took the audience all the way along with them. In the finale, Allegro con spirito, they tossed Haydn’s music from one player to another bringing out the composer’s many bits of musical teasing. I am certain that there is one person who would have thoroughly enjoyed this performance. His name? Well, Joseph Haydn, of course.
The music of Brahms was from a different emotional world altogether. His Quartet in c minor Op.51, No.1 is far darker and more serious. Though in a different way, the Marmen Quartet made it every bit as enjoyable. Brahms’s Quartet writing had an almost symphonic richness to it in the Marmen’s performance. All four instruments had their own strong musical lines which the Quartet made really stand out.
The opening movement had drama and fire delivered with moments of startling impassioned playing.
The following Romanze was lovingly played, often with passages of quiet gentleness and soothing carefully well blended harmonies.
The Allegretto third movement has a hypnotically strange theme. It made me think of autumnal twilight. I loved it, and then, like a ray of gentle sunshine, the happier sounding trio provided a delicious contrast.
The opening of the finale was almost alarmingly dramatic, then Brahms revisits all the moods that have gone before until the Marmen Quartet took firm hold of the final coda with their most fervent and exciting playing – a marvellous conclusion to a first rate performance.