With the harvest season more or less upon us it is once again time for us to reap the fruits of those endeavours we have sown over the past year and put on what could be wryly described as our very own harvest festival. The venues for this two-day musical extravaganza (though maybe more understated than that; an introvaganza perhaps?) will again be our faithful friends the Lit and Phil in central Newcastle, on 26th October, and St. Peter’s Church in South Shields the following evening.
The programme is, we hope, a varied affair, with a baroque sonata for two violins and a movement of a mid-twentieth century string quartet standing alongside three of the staple composers of the classical repertoire, Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn; the latter is of course a romantic composer by many definitions, though the Mendelssohn we are playing, the composer’s first quartet, was written just two years after Beethoven’s death and one after Schubert’s, and could therefore legitimately be treated as a classical quartet. Mozart’s fourth quartet which opens the programme, fulfilling its traditional Mozart amuse bouche role, is in the best traditions of early Mozart quartets, with a relaxed yet precise first movement sonata and an energetic, impudent rondo finale at either end of a sombre, almost tragic slow movement which provides the quartet with real depth and contrast from the sunny outer movements. The Schubert on the other hand is a rather more curious affair, an intriguing tapestry of apparently unrelated movements. A slow and mysterious introduction eventually gives way to a dark, impassioned presto vivace (Italian for “rattling along at a fair old pace”), nominally in G Minor but containing at its development a D Major fugue. This fugal idea is taken up in the last movement, again presto but with a completely different mood, in B Flat Major and full of vim and élan, rather like the last movement of the Mozart. In between there is what could be described as two minuets, a gentle and pastoral first followed by a slower, but still becalmed and pleasant, second. Other than being in three-four time for its entirety, save for the slow introduction to the first movement, the quartet contains few obvious unifying threads; indeed the quartet tends to be described, unusually, as being in “various keys”. It is perhaps best seen as Schubert feeling his way into the quartet form by just writing those ideas which came to him, and in it we see fascinating glimpses of the almost nonchalant genius Schubert would become.
The first half also features the baroque sonata for two violins, by French composer Jean-Marie Leclair, hopefully providing an invigorating contrast with the quartets. It is enough to say about this work for now that its golden, uplifting mood suggests nothing of the violent fate which would befall its composer, about which my fellow violinist in the duet can hopefully be prevailed to expound on these pages at some point. More on the rest of the programme anon.