Winner of the 2014 Royal Over-Seas League Ensemble Competition, the Solem Quartet was formed in 2011 at the University of Manchester.
Taking its name from the university’s motto “arduus ad solem”, meaning “striving towards the sun” the Solem Quartet’s first project was to play the Haydn Op. 20 “Sun” Quartets.
Since then the quartet has built an impressive CV which includes: the prestigious Chamber Studio Mentorship 2014/2015; ‘Quartet in Residence’ at the University of Liverpool since September 2016; ‘Ensemble in Residence’ at Aberystwyth MusicFest; a BBC Proms Extra broadcast and 2 CD recordings of 20th Century British Music.
Britten’s Three Divertimenti acted as the perfect aperitif: conceived as pieces of ‘pleasing entertainment’, each movement was short and sweet, with tons of character from start to finish.
One of the first pieces these musicians learnt as a quartet, their familiarity and ease with the music was clear: from the tight ensemble work to the sense of fun and enjoyment which was effortlessly communicated from the opening bars.
The second divertimento caught the mood immediately – elegant and restrained with a lovely swaying waltz rhythm and perfectly placed pizzicato.
The burlesque feel of the third, once again featuring delicate question and answer pizzicato, built gradually to a climax leaving the final notes echoing in the ether of St Wilfred’s Church.
Haydn’s Quartet no.64 in D major, op76, no.5 demonstrated one of the major advantages of performing in a church setting: the timbre of all the instruments was enhanced and in particular, the gorgeous, rich tone of the cello.
The slow movement largo was exquisite, its mood of vulnerability and hopefulness beautifully conveyed. Time appeared to stand still as every note was made to count. With wonderful attention to dynamics, crescendos were heavenly swells of sound and notes left hanging in mid-air created a magical ending to the movement.
The Presto finale was an exciting roller coaster ride which gave the impression of the quartet being right on the edge, when in fact, they were always in control.
It was with their final piece – Schumann’s String Quartet no. 3 in A major – that the Solem Quartet really came into their own.
Apart from demonstrating seamless question and answer interchange between instruments, it also showed their ability to switch quickly between changes of mood – from tumultuous, to calm and reflective.
Written after a bout of severe depression as a present for his wife, it reveals a more optimistic, romantic side to Schumann’s personality – although not without its moments of uncertainty.
More than anything, it was the Solem Quartet’s strong emotional connection to Schumann’s music which really shone through, and added an extra dimension to this performance.
The Solem Quartet is clearly committed to making classical music accessible to a younger generation and enjoys working with Live Music Now, giving concerts and workshops in special needs schools and care homes across the UK.
One of the most inspiring aspects of this event was the way in which the quartet easily held the attention of a group of children from a local primary school, and afterwards found time to chat and have photos taken with them.
On the evidence of this concert, I have no doubt that the future of classical music is safe in their hands. I’ll be following their career with interest.