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St Nicholas Codsall

The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Codsall Community Arts Festival on Tuesday 15  March.

You’ve got to hand it to the Codsall Community Arts Festival. Many festivals simply pick their concert programmes from a set menu provided by the ensemble. But at Codsall, having made the Great War a theme, they contacted Gloucester Library, sought out the manuscript of Gurney’s incomplete String Quartett [sic] of 1918-19, and persuaded the Klee Quartet to play it alongside Purcell’s Fantasia No.12 and – seriously – György Kurtág’s Six Moments Musicaux.

That would be a risky programme even at Birmingham Town Hall. I’m pleased to report that St Nicholas’s Church was well filled and that the audience listened with every sign of intense concentration, barring the lady next to me who unwrapped and munched a Mars Bar in the second movement of the Gurney. Did it work? The first half certainly did.

The Tokyo-based Klee Quartet – currently studying at Birmingham Conservatoire – plays with subtlety, style and intense commitment. They began the Fantasia without vibrato, gradually starting to colour Purcell’s plaintive D minor phrases as the music unfolded. Then they launched straight into the Kurtág – with passion, precision and a range of colours that made every pizzicato slide or barely-audible sul ponticello shiver tell its own story. Above it all, leader Naoko Senda’s rich, ardent tone left no doubt that we were hearing emotion as well as fierce intelligence.

If only they’d managed to get quite so completely inside the Gurney: though much as it hurts to say it, maybe there isn’t really very much to get inside. It’s tender and lyrical: it’s also rambling and diffuse. The Klees were clearly game, but even they couldn’t quite convince you that there were worthwhile ideas to be found beyond the ravishing first theme of the Adagio. Still, Gurney needs to be heard, and thanks to the Codsall Festival he was. That’s something.