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Heartfelt brio and winningly understated virtuosity

Scunthorpe Concert Society, Clive Davies

Prolonged sunny intervals seemed guaranteed from the very first notes of Haydn’s Op 71 No 2 quartet as presented by the Solem String Quartet. These young and startlingly talented musicians came to the Scunthorpe and North Lincs Concert Society already feted with prizes, awards and plaudits. Formed only a few years ago – the Solem element in their name is derived from the University of Manchester’s motto “arduus ad solem”, striving towards the sun – their playing had a radiance and warmth that was all in keeping with notions of sunlight.

This Haydn D Major quartet was one of the significant waymarks on the journey as the string quartet came out of the closet, or out of the court chambers, and into the concert hall, and the Solem made light work of its brilliance and bravura.

Second Violin William Newell most obligingly marked our cards before the performance of the Bartok Quartet No 3, demonstrating to members of the audience who might have been “wary” of this Bartok masterwork how fragmented but pure melody and thunderous dance are embedded in this early 20th century classic. His “taster” introduction was much appreciated by his listeners, although no further commendation was needed once the music began.

The Solem addressed this Bartok – a piece so concise and compressed that it lasts barely a quarter of an hour – with heartfelt brio and winningly understated virtuosity. Bartok makes cruel fingering and bowing demands on his first violin especially, but Amy Tress led an inspired reading that illuminated the folkloric and dance imperatives of the score.

To judge from the murmurs of relish that spread through the audience at the Outwood Academy, Foxhills, Bela Bartok may have made a number of new friends as a result of the Solem’s assured exertions.

The concert concluded with Beethoven’s Op 59 No 3 quartet, the last of the small group dedicated to the arts patron and Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andrey Rasumovsky. In the same way that the Haydn quartet might be seen as a pioneering work, so this Beethoven disclosed the expansive symphonic colourings of a chamber work calculated to bring joy and a skipping lightness of being to its listeners.

Cellist Stephanie Tress and viola player Alistair Vennart had the chance to display their individual virtuosity in a performance that was personable, and brimming with accomplishment and cohesion.

Leaving Foxhills, it was raining, and strong winds sent autumn leaves skitttering and scattering across the drenched road surface – but looking more closely it became apparent that the leaves were not scattering but dancing.

Image credit: Marian Pearson 

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