Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, The Globe, London
The Guardian – Carducci Quartet/Shostakovich 15 review – truly extraordinary stamina in a musical marathon
The Carduccis maintained astonishing intensity throughout the complete cycle of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets – performed in a single day
Most ensembles gung-ho enough to attempt a complete cycle of the 15 Shostakovich quartets – including, on other occasions, the Carducci Quartet – might spread them across a weekend, and still call it intensive. But that’s for wimps. Here, on the 40th anniversary of the composer’s death, the Carduccis put the quartets end to end in a single day: nearly seven hours of music, in four concerts with barely an hour between each. It demanded unusual focus from the audience, several changes of the Playhouse candles – and truly extraordinary stamina from the players. Between the later quartets it was as if the audience was cheering them around the last laps of a marathon.
Of course, Shostakovich never envisaged his works presented like this. In the exuberant earliest quartets the peaks of intensity became relentless, the players making no concessions to the long haul ahead. Indeed, perhaps the first four quartets could have been approached more as one single score, the Carduccis grading the fierceness of their playing accordingly rather than gunning for each climax. There were few moments of truly soft playing early on – but lots of crisp little dance passages that bounced off the coiled spring of Emma Denton’s cello, lots of yearning, finely judged melodies and deft mood swings. And the loudest episodes could be thrilling: the start of the Quartet No 4 made the Playhouse’s balconies ring like the body of a supersized stringed instrument.
Violinist Matthew Denton’s occasional explanatory chats hit a false note once or twice thanks to the audience’s seeming determination to find jokes in them. But hearing these quartets all together revealed not only that none of them is a weak link, but that there is a surprising amount of sunlight amid the gloom, especially in the mellower pair of works that followed the coruscating Eighth.
The Carduccis maintained astonishing intensity, right through to the focused stillness of No 15. This was, as advertised, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime event, and next to it everyone else’s Shostakovich anniversary programming seems merely dutiful.
St George’s Hall – Liverpool
They mesmerised the audience with their performance of the second of Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” quartets, so much so that they were forced to sit down and perform an encore, which turned out to be a little irreverent Shostakovich, in the shape of the Rondo Polka. […] The introverted, intense playing by the quartet in the Allegretto opening movement brought a particular feeling of pathos to the performance, almost asking the audience to sympathise with the agonies the composer must have felt after the intensity of the criticism from the Soviet authorities. They brought a constant questioning to the performance, building to an explosive climax.
Glyn Môn Hughes (the artsdesk)
CIT Cork School Of Music – Ireland
Intense, searching, and frequently very moving — as well as being exciting, brilliant, joyous, full of original colours, and utterly captivating. All of these emotions were evident in the playing of the Carducci. From the beginning of their career, they have demonstrated technical brilliance, excellent tone, and sense of ensemble. All of these qualities have matured wonderfully, enabling the Carducci to present these great masterpieces with a confidence that belies their comparative youth […] The atmospheric playing in No 4 was enhanced by a brilliant range of dynamics, especially in No 12, the most dissonant (but totally accessible) of these three quartets. The Carducci’s triumphant ending of this fabulously passionate work was quite magnificent.
Declan Townsend (Irish Examiner)
Saarbrücker Zeitung – Germany
Carducci quartet and pianist Peter Caelen impressive at Saarbrücker Kammerkonzert
The Piano Quintet in E flat major op. 44 by Robert Schumann was on the program after a short interval, together with pianist Peter Caelen. The demanding piece with many imitations, fast runs and the beautiful ensemble playing between piano and cello really impressed the audience. After an energetic Finale the audience applauded until the musicians finally replayed one of the movements.
Into the Ravine – Signum Classics CD
‘the beauty of the Carducci’s playing will surely prompt repeated listening’
Monday, 03 February 2014
Michael Berkeley’s finely wrought Oboe Quartet (2012) – a single movement spanning 18 minutes – is texturally transparent and plangent in expression. It’s also neatly written in creating climaxes that are not reliant upon loud dynamics that might mask the oboe. Its title, ‘Into the Ravine’, suggested by a painting by John Craxton, is apt: its haunting, almost Expressionistic atmosphere is well captured by the Carducci, and oboist Nicholas Daniel plays with remarkable poise, too.
The Carducci players get more of a chance to show their teeth in John McCabe’s five-movement String Quartet no.7 (2012), particularly in its ‘wild and fast’ perpetuum mobile central panel. But the ferocity is never ugly or edgy.
The earliest piece on the disc is Adrian Williams’s String Quartet no.4 from 2009, which showcases the Carducci’s fine ensemble playing, not least in the Brittenesque lyrical unisons of its first movement and the warm, spacious modal harmonies of its slow movement – a kind of modernised Vaughan Williams meets Middle-earth.
This is a fine disc of new British music, and the beauty of the Carducci’s playing will surely prompt repeated listening.
Edward Bhesania The Strad
‘Into the Ravine’
This is a distillation of the essence of the Presteigne Festival, which every August presents a wealth of British contemporary music in and around a small town in the Welsh borders. Michael Berkeley, who lives nearby and is the Festival’s President, wrote Into the Ravine for the 2012 Festival: named after a painting by John Craxton (brother of the oboist Janet), it is a study in the varied colours available from oboe and string quartet, reaching an intense unified climax. John McCabe, a Presteigne regular, wrote his Quartet No.7 for the same Festival: in five movements with two scherzos, it holds in balance the lyrical and the propulsive, the declamatory and the intimate, before dissolving into ‘a gentle summer sky at dusk’. Adrian Williams, a founder of the Festival and another local resident, composed his Fourth Quartet for Presteigne in 2009; its three movements are fuelled by personal urgency, offset by reflective moments reminiscent of Finzi. The talented Carducci players are responsive to all the shifting moods of this programme, and Nicholas Daniel spins a finely controlled line in the Berkeley.
Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine, March 2014
‘The Carducci give superbly vivid and thoroughly prepared performances’
“This is not the first time that works by Michael Berkeley, John McCabe and Adrian Williams have rubbed shoulders together on a disc. Metronome’s ‘A Garland for Presteigne’ featured pairs of songs by Berkeley and McCabe with Williams’s ‘Red Kite Flying’ in a programme subtitled ‘Twelve New Songs Celebrating the Welsh Borders’, and Presteigne once again provides a connection for them on Signum’s new release, as all three works were premiered at the Welsh town’s vibrant festival.
The connecting link is the Carducci Quartet, for whom they were written: Berkeley’s title-track Oboe Quintet and McCabe’s most recent string quartet in 2012, and Adrian Williams’s Fourth in 2009. All three works take inspiration from non-musical sources, whether paintings by Rothko and Craxton (Berkeley), Keats’s ‘murmurous haunts of flies on summer eves’ (McCabe) or the ‘wild, open spaces’ of the Welsh borders (Williams). Berkeley’s Into the Ravine is flowing but tense, with the highest degree of dissonance of the three works, accentuated by Nicholas Daniel’s peerless oboe, while McCabe’s five-movement quartet – the finest work here – and his most Classical in design, though unconventionally so – is alive with the panoply of a whole season (in which the flies are far from merely ‘murmurous’ at times). Williams’s impressive quartet traverses some bleak, open landscapes before its wild, stormy finale.
The Carducci give superbly vivid and thoroughly prepared performances that catch the varied expressive characters of each work, combining with Nicholas Daniel to great effect. Signum’s sound is excellent.”
Sinfini Music **** ‘beautifully focused playing from the Carducci Quartet’
Commissioning new classical music is a risk: the results, even from experienced composers of proven talent, are bound to vary. The reassuring news is that all three of these works really do reward the process of getting to know them.
Michael Berkeley’s oboe quintet was inspired by a John Craxton painting that used to belong to Berkeley’s father (also a composer). Into the Ravine is designed in an 18-minute, single-movement span, and the music’s idiom has the approachable vividness and precision of Britten’s later style. Yet there’s also a fierce, keening intensity here that haunts the memory long afterwards. Rather than treating the oboe as a solo instrument with accompanying strings, Berkeley looks to blend them together. The rounded fullness of Nicholas Daniel’s oboe tone, combined with powerful, beautifully focused playing from the Carducci Quartet, makes the idea work remarkably well.
The two string quartets are then performed with the same exceptional alertness and poise. John McCabe’s five-movement Quartet No. 7 deftly combines the tight-reined, busily inventive manner of the composer’s beloved Haydn with a likeable sense of atmospheric space. Adrian Williams in his Quartet No. 4 explores a looser-limbed, stream-of-consciousness approach; in the slow second movement (of three), the music searches out an impressively rich strand of lyrical warmth.
Monks Music – Raskatov – LCMS
Monk’s Music received a 5 star review in the Irish Times on 25.10.13 and was chosen as one of the top five recordings of 2013 by the Irish Times Classical Music Critic Michael Dervan. Michael Dervan wrote:
‘Alexander Raskatov’s Monk’s Music, modelled on Haydn’s Seven Last Words, made a big impression in concert in Dundalk and on disc. Monk’s Music, a daring revisiting of the shape of Haydn’s Seven Last Words – words interleaved with seven successive slow movements. It’s so good, I suspect even Haydn would have taken his hat off.’
Unlike The Hilliard Ensemble’s recent Prayers and Praise, in Monk’s Music the vocal and instrumental elements of Alexander Raskatov’s music are separated, with Hilliard bassman Gordon Jones intoning seven texts by the Russian monk/saint Starets Silouan as introductions to the instrumental evocations. It imposes a suitably pious atmosphere for the Carducci Quartet’s arrangements to exist within. The seven sections reflect the emotions of the texts: yearning in “Adagio”, where the pulsing cello ostinatos underpin wispy arabesques; then pained and imploring in “Adagio affetuoso”, before achieving the soothing peace of “Adagio molto”.
Washington Kennedy Center – USA
Marital harmonies from the Carducci String Quartet at the Kennedy Center
By Stephen Brookes – The Washington Post
The Carducci String Quartet is a fine young Anglo-Irish ensemble, much praised for its interpretations of contemporary music. It’s also, curiously enough, made up of two married couples — prompting the inquiring mind to wonder how marital dynamics affect the music. What happens when conjugal spats break out — are ill-considered eighth-notes hurled angrily across the room? And, after a fight, should we avert our eyes for the inevitable makeup duet?
Well, probably none of our business. Suffice it to say that, in their appearance at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Saturday afternoon (courtesy of the Washington Performing Arts Society), the Carducci players displayed a deep and almost familial sense of unity in everything they played. The program was strictly mainstream — Haydn, Beethoven and that newfangled Dvorak fellow… full of life and vitality…
Haydn’s Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3, got the afternoon rolling and proved a good fit for the Carducci. Haydn’s quartets often come off best when not polished to glossy perfection (humor and rough edges go well together, after all) and the ensemble dug into the work with a likable directness and down-to-earth, relaxed enthusiasm.
Dvorak’s summery, light-filled Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, the “American,” is famous for its quoting of a scarlet tanager (or “this damned bird,” as the composer called it) that had nested right outside his window. But it’s also a masterful rendering of that elusive thing called the “American spirit,” and the Carducci brought out the quiet confidence and late-19th-century optimism that run through the work. The extravagantly beautiful Lento, awash in luminous melancholy, was a particular joy.
Beethoven’s Quartet in A minor, Op. 132… contains some of the most profound and personal music he ever wrote. The Carducci brought it off with deep, simmering power, and the lilting rapture of the final Allegro appassionato made a fine close to the afternoon.
Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts
“Then came the first event to feature the outstanding Carducci Quartet. It began with the second commissioned work, John McCabe’s masterful String Quartet No 7 (Summer Eves), before actor Crawford Logan recited with great clarity the texts of Sally Beamish’s Five Poems of the Forest to an accompaniment of a sussurating string quintet (with second viola, Sarah-Jane Bradley) that provided atmosphere rather than illumination. A bravura performance of Beethoven’s First ‘Razumovsky’ String Quartet (Opus 59/1) concluded the evening in impressive style. (…) The next commissioned work was David Matthews’s String Quartet No.13. Arguably the high-spot of the Festival, this intense and beautiful work was expressively realised by the Carducci Quartet, and then joined by Philip Higham for a performance of Schubert’s great String Quintet in C that was nothing short of sublime. The Carducci has to be one of the finest string quartets around.”
John Rushby-Smith – www.classicalsource.com – Aug 2012
“…Sally Beamish’s String Quartet No 2 ‘Opus California’ seemed quite terse and witty, with its briefly glimpsed quotations from Beethoven and stylistic references to the music of West Coast America. For a composer who usually takes herself very seriously this was definitely a fun piece, cheerfully upbeat in the opening ‘Boardwalk’, by turns peaceful and lyrical in the middle movements, and finishing in a flurry of jazz-inflected activity. The Carduccis played it with considerable élan, as they did Mendelssohn’s F minor Quartet at the end of the programme.”
David Hart – The Birmingham Post – August 31, 2012
“This subliminal Gloucestershire connection continued with Beamish’s ‘Five Poems from the Forest’ in Friday’s concert from the excellent Carducci Quartet (…)
Christopher Morley – The Birmingham Post – August 31, 2012
Metropolitan Arts Centre, Belfast
Moving on Music Concert Series – In association with the MAC. With guitarist Michael O Toole.
“Cellist Emma Denton stands out particularly, cleverly energising and subtly varying the pulsing seed-motifs that generate momentum in the opening movement. She also soulfully unravels the long cantabile melody Glass writes for cello later… Light dominates Haydn’s so-called Sunrise Quartet (his Op. 76, No. 4), with which the Carduccis open the recital. Here it’s first violinist Matthew Denton who catches the attention, his sappy, songful phrasing a constant illuminator of Haydn’s elegantly crafted lyric writing. Droll and pointed in his duetting with the cello in the adagio, Denton snaps the swagger of the bucolic Menuetto firmly into focus, and drives the accelerating coda of the finale with a dynamism pointing clearly forward to the quartet work of Beethoven. Irish guitarist Michael O’Toole joins the Carducci Quartet for the world premiere of Belfast composer Ian Wilson’s Stille, nacht… The impression of an ink-black firmament, lonely stars twinkling in the isolated immensity of outer space, is palpable at the work’s conclusion… O’Toole and the Carduccis get the happy idiom of Boccherini’s piece (think early Mozart with an astringent drizzle of Vivaldi) just right. They clearly relish the easy flow of melody and chirpy rhythms of the writing. It’s a cheerful end to another excellent classical concert at the MAC.”
Terry Blain – culturenorthernireland.org – May 14, 2012
Mendelssohn and Franck CD
The latest CD from the splendid Carducci Quartet comprises just two quartets, each of which was written in the last year of its composer’s life. Superb playing and faithful recording makes this CD a valuable addition to any chamber music enthusiast’s library.
In May 1847, Fanny Mendelssohn, the composer’s beloved sister, died at the early age of 41. Felix, three years younger than her, was shattered by her death. Persuaded by his wife to holiday in Switzerland, he took to taking long walks and assuaged his grief somewhat by composing his 6th string quartet, Op 80 in F minor, his last major work. Two months after finishing it he was dead himself, aged 38. While it is as exquisitely polished as almost everything he wrote, there is a depth of expression in this work that is much more profound than that found in almost any other work of his. The Carducci’s understanding of the music and their technical excellence, plus the meticulous attention to balance and dynamics in this unashamedly emotional performance makes it a recording to treasure.
Towards the end of his life, the Belgian-born Cesar Franck (1882-1884), a teacher of organ and composition at the Paris Conservatory, produced a series of remarkable works. These include the first great French symphony since Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, a magnificent violin sonata, a wonderful Piano quintet, and this remarkably powerful string quartet. The Carducci quartet’s passionate account is, I suspect, a remarkably authentic reading, one that brilliantly succeeds in revealing the riches of this fine work. There is no holding back in this performance, one in which phrasing, balance, and, above all, huge dynamic contrasts make this utterly compelling. It is a performance to listen to again and again.
Declan Townsend – Irish Examiner