Bingham String Quartet

First Huntly performance of Ronald Center's First String Quartet

Wednesday 2 March 2016 • 7.30pm
Tin Hut, Gartly (map)

Bingham String Quartet

Bingham String Quartet

Review by Jill Andrews

As March roared its snowy trail into Gartly, the Tin Hut flung open its doors to offer the audience a varied and dazzlingly virtuosic concert featuring predominantly modern music in the classical tradition, performed by Steve Bingham's Quartet.

The Quartet started off with the first live performance in the Huntly area of String Quartet No. 1 written by the town's most famous composer, Ronald Center. From its commanding opening the four players superbly passed the melody line between them. Smooth lyrical sections passed seamlessly into discordancy evoking an ominous atmosphere of both hope and despair, explained in part by the date of composition during the Second World War. The latter movements are hauntingly beautiful and the ending frantic, driven by an insistent, beating crescendo. Throughout we could hear references to Scottish, Russian, even Oriental music cleverly juxtaposed with the pastoral. Ronald Center was just 30 years old when he wrote this.

Violinists Marina Gillam and Steve Bingham

Violinists Marina Gillam
and Steve Bingham

Five miniatures followed written by an even younger group of students, including two local lassies who were only 16 when they composed their pieces. In both of these you could detect strong Scottish influences. Iona Fyfe's War and Peace had two contrasting halves whilst Annie Lennox's Hit the Tin was a jaunty, clever piece inspired by a warning of nightlife in Dundee. Lewis Holliday's elegiac and nostalgic All the Green Grass was a response to looking through a box of childhood photographs. James East delivered a nightmarish scenario in his Lake Walks by Moonlight, which contrasted beautifully with the fragile and smooth Miniatyr för Stråkkvartett by Josefine Mindus.

The first half was brought to a close with David Ward's String Quartet No. 4, a devilishly complex, exciting and rhythmical piece. There's a beautiful group conversation in its slow movement when each instrument, in turn, asks a question of the others, to be answered by a variation on a three note mournful motif. The faster movements, both insistent and argumentative, resolved into a muted pizzicato before the frantically high-speed coda, demonstrating how astoundingly precise the sound of this quartet can be.

Cellist James Halsey and viola player Brenda Stewart

Cellist James Halsey and
viola player Brenda Stewart

The second half was in complete contrast to the first being short and only including one, relatively old piece: Beethoven's String Quartet No. 10, opus 74. After the challengingly enjoyable first half, you could see the audience visibly relaxing into more comfortable territory. Swelling, joyous, surging music filled the Hut with an attention grabbing presto and a lyrical, yet strident and assertive, flourish to the finish.

The Bingham String Quartet were on dazzling form all evening, enhanced, from an audience perspective, by the surroundings. The Tin Hut is a very special venue. The intimacy of the space allows the drama of the playing to unfold immediately in front of you. Every flourish of the bow, sideways glance, body-lean into the dynamic, and bead of sweat is feasted upon making this and intensely visual spectacle in addition to the aural.

A thrillingly good night!

Review and photos by Jill Andrews, whose daughter Annie Lennox wrote "Hit the Tin", one of the student miniatures in the concert.

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