Classical review: Edinburgh Quartet, Summerhall

The Edinburgh Quartet

The Edinburgh Quartet

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WHAT better place to tease apart a piece of music than Summerhall’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre?

Edinburgh Quartet

Summerhall, Edinburgh

Star rating; * * * *

Looking down on the Edinburgh Quartet from the raked seating added to the experimental feel of the second of their Late Sessions focusing on works by James MacMillan.

In his Momento quartet, written in 1994, MacMillan draws on the heterophony of Gaelic psalm singing and the modality of Gaelic laments. The lively acoustics captured every whisper of the quartet’s beautifully nuanced performance as they spun the harmonics in an ethereal round.

Running at a brief four minutes, Momento could easily have been a fragment from MacMillan’s lengthier 1998 quartet Why is this night different? Beforehand, the quartet explained the ideas behind the piece, its structure, and played excerpts, in particular the recurring “childhood” theme. It was fascinating to discover some of the themes where conceived by MacMillan in his own childhood, but given that information like this could easily be covered in a programme note, some might question the need for such a forensic dissection. Surely music can speak for itself?

These things can be tricky, though, and by and large the Edinburgh Quartet got the balance and tone just right. For those in the audience with no prior knowledge of MacMillan’s music, or indeed contemporary music, the musicians’ articulate introduction provided useful signposts to this visceral and challenging work.

Seen on 12.02.14

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