Stockbridge Music: The Maiastra String Quartet

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Take three musically advanced young string players, post graduates ambitious to make chamber music their careers – in this case a Latvian, Korean, and a Briton – put them together for just ten days with a renowned professor from the Guildhall School of Music and the Yehudi Menuhin School, and you can enjoy a concert of the highest quality, thinking you were listening to a long established group.

At least you can in the hands of the Aidan Woodcock Trust. Woodcock, who died three years ago, and for some years was in the London Symphony Orchestra, later in life became dedicated to nurturing young string playing talent. He named his annual ten day free residential courses after the Maiastra, a bird with magical powers from Romanian folklore.

So after just a few days of moulding together, here was this quartet playing three of the most challenging works in any string quartet’s repertoire, by Beethoven, Turina and Schubert.

Beethoven’s String Quartet in D (Op. 18 No. 3) owes much to his influence by Haydn and Mozart. In this work, the players have to lead us through the contrasts of calm reflection with warm sonorities drawn from their strings to much jabbing of the same strings to elicit relentless disquiet. Abrupt dynamic changes, unexpected tonalities, key modulations – all were expressed with admirable authority here.

During a day of bullfighting in Madrid, while mingling with some horses back stage, the composer Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) found a small door leading into an incense-filled chapel where toreadors were praying before facing possible death. Inspiration was immediate. The arena’s tumult, a fiesta to come – and the prayers for protection – all are in his one movement work La Oración del torero. The Maiastra proved masters of the work’s vivid mood painting, guitar derived ornaments and conflicting emotions.

The final work in this inspirational concert was Schubert’s Quartet No. 14 in D minor, dubbed the Death and the Maiden, not his title but named later after a song of the same name he’d written seven years earlier; he’d used its theme for this Quartet’s second movement and added five variations, the portions of the work that’s made it so well known. This four movement Quartet with all its contrasted demands of frenzied, gentle, rhythmic, strenuous, scurrying, expressive elements requires the greatest thought and skill. Superbly played.

Stockbridge Music’s education mission is paying local audiences dividends.

Written by James Montgomery