Ryedale Festival: Albion String Quartet/Hannah Roberts, St Olave’s Church, York, July 19
THE Albions spent a long weekend in residence for the festival’s opening, giving no less than five concerts. Three of these involved Schubert’s String Quintet in C, the last of them a mid-morning event marking the festival’s only venture into York this year.
They could hardly have chosen a better second cellist than Hannah Roberts: she blended superbly right from the start, while making her presence felt, the perfect combination. The proof here lay in the way all five voices jointly swelled and subsided, as if breathing together.
For many, this extraordinary work is a pinnacle of western music. What makes it additionally remarkable is that it came from the pen of a man who knew his end was near. So many of its apparently unruffled surfaces crack under the strain of this knowledge. It rarely settles – and is unsettling for the listener despite its many charms. For a performance to succeed, it needs to be uncomfortable.
The heart of the work is its Adagio. Its outer sections hover, as the three central voices barely move and the outer two offer plucked comments; these at first lacked definition. After the bleak diversion into the minor key, first violin and second cello were much more distinct in their wanderings and we were transported into another world. It was a telling moment.
The first movement had gained urgency on the repeat of the exposition, and this was nicely sustained throughout the development. The attacks in the Scherzo gave it delightfully rustic implications, heightening the contrast with its ghostly Trio.
In the finale, all bright and cheery on the surface, we were made aware of the sinister implications of the last two notes. Indeed, the whole performance struck a superb balance between the light and the dark that pervades this incomparable score: a rewarding experience.
Review by Martin Dreyer