17th Feb, 2020

REVIEW - Van Kuijk Quartet, Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington

Van Kuijk Quartet

Pump Rooms, Leamington

This being the 250th anniversary of his birth, we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot of Beethoven before the year is out. The great composer’s contribution to the development of the string quartet was immense. His last few works in the format are unsurpassed in their moments of dark intensity.

The Van Kuijk Quartet made a welcome return to the Pump Rooms bringing not only a staple of the Beethoven chamber repertoire but fine examples of the quartet from Mozart and Brahms.

From the first note of Mozart’s Quartet in F to the final chord of the well-deserved Bizet encore, the playing was immaculate. Mozart’s feather-light touch provided plenty of opportunity for a sprightly tempo and a lightness of spirit. Sharp in focus and crystal clear, this was a perfect opener.

Brahms’s A minor Quartet is a very different beast coming as it does after Beethoven had rewritten the rulebook on the format’s capabilities.

Nowhere near as prolific as his German predecessor, Brahms nevertheless fills this work’s movements with moments of drama and moments of genuine intensity and the performance here did the piece full justice. Moving seamlessly from being four distinct instruments to being a single united voice the Van Kuijk Quartet were a joy to watch and hear.

Beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartet in C in such expert hands reminded all why we have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to from a year-long celebration of the great composer’s contribution to music and musical history. Breathtakingly intense and constantly inventive, this performance was  nothing short of superb.

This whole programme was a wonderful example of the way chamber music can be almost as much a visual experience as an aural one. The communication between all four players was a joy to watch, passing on melodic lines, underlining musical expression and – at times – simply expressing a joy in the sound being made. Those who decide the recital hall, with its occasional dropped programme, cough or passing lorry, is too high a price to pay for the seclusion and concentration a pair of headphones can afford, simply don’t know what they’re missing. Sometimes you’ve just got to be there. This was not just music, but music-making of the highest order. Leamington (and its surrounding catchment area) is fortunate to have such quality on offer and every face heading out into the cold Friday evening seemed to be well aware of that.

Booking is now open for Leamington Music Festival, running from May 1 to 5, which will be joining in the world-wide celebrations of Ludwig van Beethoven. There’s a full preview at leamingtonobserver.co.uk and ticket details, plus news of other Leamington Music events can be found at leamingtonmusic.org .

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