Brighton Festival 2021 classical – Consone Quartet
REVIEW BY Richard Amey
Brighton Festival 2021 classical – Consone Quartet, current BBC New Generation Artists, in Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Monday 24 May, 1pm (1 hour, no interval). Agate Daraškaite & Magdalena Loth-Hill violins, Elitsa Bogdanova viola, George Ross cello. String Quartets: Mozart in D minor K421, Robert Schumann in A minor Op 41 No 1.
Festival chief executive Andrews Comben told the audience at this eighth post-lockdown live classical concert in as many days how much each musician had expressed appreciation of ‘live listeners’ being present. It has been interesting what music they perform on these heart-warming and liberating occasions – the usual stuff or what?
Is that choice a reflection of the musicians’ own state of spirit and mind after more than a year’s abandonment? Or what’s coming up in the recording studio? Or what the Festival ordered? This my fourth concert was the most introspective. It reminded that emergence from the Covid-19 Pandemic English lockdown is accompanied by an awareness not only of freedom but of that which is not emerging with us, or who.
Two quartets both in minor keys, neither with any overtly impacting final resolution or conspicuous final brightening into the major key, were never going to have the 80%-reduced audience throwing their hats into the air.
What, then, to derive from this experience, apart from to enjoy the longed-for returning sound of two fiddles, a viola and a cello in harmonised unison – and share the relief and pleasure of the players delivering?
The Consone Quartet play on authentic instruments and among the audience were some from their recent partners in that field, The Hanover Band, from Arundel, who in lockdown last year combined with them to create some striking livestreamed concerts for Beethoven’s 250th celebrations.
These lighter and more silver-toned instruments with gut strings, rather than the golden, more roundness later ones with steel, plus the general absence of emotive finger vibrato, were a recipe for a more sobering and elusive atmosphere in projecting with these two works.
Mozart in D minor is not flourishing any glass of wine, but is brooding on life’s sterner scenarios. Robert Schumann in A minor and in the mood for counterpoint is bound to sound lower-lit.
Mozart is out to impress and honour the intellectual creator of the string quartet, Haydn himself, and for one of the six quartets he will dedicate to him, he needs a minor key and instinctively picks one of his two darkest. Schumann in minor tonality, not composing for piano, is bound on strings to lean more towards his ‘Eusebius’ introversion than his ‘Florestan’ flaring of impulse.
So we had a lunchtime of reflection and thought, although not without its rewards within the homogeneity of content.
This wasn’t familiar stormy or dramatic Mozart in D minor. The Consones showed us his restraint but still his fluency and concentration of musical textures. They shared with us the privacy of this deep Mozart-Haydn respect and friendship with much graceful playing from the four individuals and ensemble, with flits of wit in the first violin.
Texture was also preoccupying Schumann, after his self crash-course on Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven string quartet craft. This at a time when the elated impetus from attaining his long fought-for marriage to Clara had already sent him into his finest songwriting and piano composition modes. And he was keen to impress the invited Mendelssohn, who we hear duly was on encountering this work hot out of the furnace.
The Consones embarked on some controlled urgency in the Schumann Scherzo movement – the authentic instruments at their least mellow all concert – and they were elegantly contained during the slow movement which inevitably proved the emotional destination of their programme. In the swift, sole movement left to come, the group switched on some quicksilver threat-running, and shared the quiet exhilaration of Schumann’s contrapuntal voices staying active to the end.
Presentation-wise, the three women sported matching black shoes but a variety of dark tops and trousers, with one terracotta shrug providing a colour accent. The gentleman, his period cello (no endpin) based against his two calves, legs half akimbo, right lower leg pointing backward and left forward, had shed his black suit jacket, opened his white shirt and played in his waistcoat.
Both composers, Mozart 29, Schumann 32, were striving to secure lasting respect from their peers, at the same time as bestowing on them affection. Six years away, Haydn, 24 years Mozart’s senior, was to conquer London, only to return to a Vienna with Mozart spent, dead and gone. Schumann, soaring to his peak, was within 12 years beginning fatal mental collapse.
Did I imagine and take home any unspoken message from this lockdown-release choice? Yes, the fragility of life then – and now.
The Festival’s eighth live, socially distanced-audience indoor concert in eight days since Covid-19 Pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020. Permitted audience: 250 (Dome seating capacity is 1,700).
Masks mandatory, one-way routes. Seating bookable in household groups, sitting together. In the raised-area stalls and upstairs, three empty seats separate those occupied by individuals or groups. Cabaret table-seating on auditorium floor accessed by temporary stairs.
Audience measures Search and Trace, hand sanitisation, temperature test, tickets scan-checking, bag search (max size A3). Toilets in use. No cloakroom. Bar drinks orderable pre-concert only, and brought to the buyers in their auditorium seats. Social distancing everywhere. At the end, the audience are stewarded out, section by section. Free, reduced-content concert programme sheets.