MUSIC IN THE UNIVERSITY THE EDINBURGH QUARTET THE COWDRAY HALL Thursday, 28 November 2013 The Edinburgh Quartet chose two audacious and exciting works for their latest performance in Aberdeen - Haydn’s Quartet in F Major Op.74 No.2 followed by Visions of a November Spring by James MacMillan. That James MacMillan would produce something for string quartet that was new, exploratory and exciting is probably not surprising but Haydn? Well, Haydn was always opening up new horizons with his string quartet writing and his Op.74 No.2 is no exception. The first movement uses only one theme but Haydn still manages to steer it through the full sonata structure using key changes to give his theme a new personality whenever these changes occur. He makes it sound fresh every time it occurs. The bright, clear and wonderfully keen playing of the Edinburgh Quartet ensured that every entry of the theme stood out in high resolution. In the second movement Gordon Bragg seized the spotlight with his highly polished solo and Haydn had also ensured that the viola and cello had their moments in the sun too. The composer’s irrepressible sense of humour was brought forth in the Menuetto especially where the cello comes in with a teasing echo, like a little wink from the composer and from the performer Mark Bailey too. In the trio section Tristan Gurney gave us an elegant little musical pirouette to top off the rest of the music. It was the cherry on the cake. The Presto finale was brisk and crisply played with delightful syncopated rhythms. In his excellent programme note Dr Roger Williams drew our attention to the fact that throughout the whole work Haydn uses parts of the original theme to build the structure of the work which is why I say that he deserves to be thought of as a consistently innovative composer. Tristan Gurney gave us a very helpful introduction to James MacMillan’s Quartet. He concentrated on the more extensive second movement letting us hear the three motifs and their textures which MacMillan uses in building the movement. With the composer’s own programme note as a guide the opening movement was self explanatory. For much of the movement there was only one note although it eventually explodes like a firework in a display that shoots out all sorts of coloured stars across the sky. Yet even the single D was given so many different textures by different bowings on the four instruments. MacMillan was able to hold our attention firmly and manipulate it as he desired. Pizzicatos, spicatto, con legno and other advanced techniques were used to give percussive energy to MacMillan’s first thematic idea in the second movement. His second idea used smoothly played harmonics while the third idea used energetic sweeps of the bow. This is not an easy work to get across because it is so full of complex technical detail with the three thematic ideas developing in richness every time they occurred but the members of the Edinburgh Quartet had every gesture of the music at their fingertips (and bow tips) so that the structure of the work emerged with admirable clarity and held me in the palm of its hand from start to finish – a wonderfully exciting and fascinating adventure in string writing.