north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

Smith Quartet
Woodend Barn, Banchory

Written by Alan Cooper, The Herald

reproduced with permission

article | The Herald

Smith Quartet, Woodend Barn, Banchory
Star rating: ****

Among the top-rank exponents of contemporary string quartet music, the Smith Quartet enjoys the reputation of being one of the very finest. On Sunday afternoon they cleared a path through the surprisingly varied and colourful jungle of minimalist compositions.

String Quartet No 2 (Company) by Philip Glass would be ideal background music to the Fritz Lang film Metropolis, suggesting that this type of minimalism is the perfect machine-age soundtrack. Andrew Poppy's Hatch, which sets its more complex rhythms slightly off-centre, suggested the flavour of dance music, while in White Man Sleeps by South African born composer Kevin Volans, bare minimalism was exchanged for a world of more expansive sound textures.

There was a diverting movement for solo cello and the opening section had folksy violin flourishes peppered through a driven rhythm that suggested Irish step dancing. (Interestingly enough, Volans now lives in Dublin.) Conlon Nancarrow's later music was produced for mechanical instruments such as the player piano but his String Quartet No 1 comes from before those experiments. Its varied sounds and textures owed far more to jazz and blues than to minimalism and the Smith Quartet gave it a spectacular performance.

Daithi's Dumka by Joe Cutler was really a deconstruction of the techniques of Czech fiddle playing along with just a hint of its Irish equivalent, while in Servant by Graham Fitkin, his minimalism was at its best when used more as background colour than as a structural tool. Memento by James MacMillan stood proud and alone in the programme - a welcome Hebridean breeze to blow away some of the exhaust fumes left by the other pieces.

reproduced by kind permission of Alan Cooper and The Herald.

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16Sun 3.00 pmBanchorySmith Quartet