Review: The Speranza String Quartet with Graham Bint

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where it was, and what it was like. St. Peter’s is in the Square in Petersfield which, on a sunny May lunchtime like today is as kind and gentle as an episode of Camberwick Green. A sizeable audience gathered in its wide, illuminated space. I’d had time to visit the famous bookshop already and had come out with George Eliot’s essays, poems and reviews but that could wait while the musicians warmed up with a few preview fragments.

Graham Bint had been poorly 11 days ago when the Fauré Quartet had been due but he was back in fine form for today. The Mozart String Quartet, K. 428, hasn’t changed a great deal in the last week and a half but if Noel Coward observed ‘how potent cheap music is’, it doesn’t stand up to repeated hearing while the likes of Mozart can be heard time and again with no diminished enjoyment. It was by no means too soon to be reminded of the gorgeous adagio resolving itself into a dew or watch the acrobatics of the violinist’s fingers, Cathy Mathews and Sue Bint in the Allegro vivace. The reason why one could listen to Mozart forever, had one world enough, and time, is the sanity, the imagination and all it implies as an ‘earned surplus’ of bringing them together so coherently. And any number of other reasons.

Cathy had done her bit and Graham took over on piano for the Fauré Quartet for piano, violin, viola and cello in C minor, op. 15, which I’m a bit surprised to find was premiered as early as 1880. I’m sure it could pass for being a decade or two younger than that. It opens with a rich sweep, expansive and passionate, the piano and strings involved in intricate cross-currents and tides. The sound was immediately fuller than the differentiated parts of the Mozart. The scherzo began with pizzicato strings that introduced a flighty piano part. As is always advisable, I find a position with a view of the keyboard whenever I can and thus appreciated quite how busy Graham’s fingers were throughout. Half an hour is a long time to keep sprinting.

I am ever likely to be taken by the melancholy of a fine adagio and Wendy Lowe’s cello was solemn until Sue’s violin led off into a sedate line until the movement grew into something more resonant which made me wish Elgar had written a piano concerto which, it turns out, he tried to but never finished. The allegro finale had Graham’s page-turner almost as busy as he, Janis and Wendy were as the onrush of the lava of notes spilled out with zest and gusto. The group were as thrilled to be playing as the audience was to be treated to such a spirited account. They are immensely likeable and clearly doing it for the right reasons. The music they played today and the way they played it, like it was in Gosport the other day, is a reason for optimism which, of course, is what speranza means.

Suddenly it all becomes clear.

David Green

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