Two world premieres for unusual combined forces, percussion and string quartet. Simon Holt’s Quadriga is in some ways the more-conventional of the pair, but indubitably persuasive – not least the subtle opening for marimba, melodic, mellifluous and piano-like, before the string quartet joins in to take up similar material. From here on there is growing complexity and tension, with the burden shared more or less equally, although the demarcation between the protagonists is clearly observed. The percussionist has the last word, rounding off a substantial work which deserves to be played regularly, as here with complete confidence and sympathy.
Where Holt had been inspired by statuary of ancient Roman horses and specifically by an Eileen Agar painting on the same theme, Suzanne Farrin used a more abstract concept as the basis of her Hypersea: the connection between life and water. “I have always thought that writing music was an act of philosophy”, she says, and Hypersea refers to the notion that as life evolved out of the sea, creatures (including humans) took a kind of sea with them internally, in the predominantly watery composition of their bodies.
For all that, though, Farrin’s composition can be heard as surprisingly concrete. Certainly it would fit well into any programme of sea-music, with its feeling of space and that sense of simultaneous small-scale movement and large-scale stasis which can characterise the genre. (And was there even an allusion to whale song in there?) Saying that she treated the percussion-and-string combination as “a quintet of string players” – notably different from Holt’s approach. Farrin extracted a range of weird and sometimes rather wonderful tone-colours from the ensemble that certainly blended them in an effective and original fashion. Indeed, without looking, it wasn’t always possible to tell which instrument was being played.
Xenakis’s Tetras, a mainstay of the JACK Quartet's repertoire, supplemented the Farrin in its creation of an inimitable soundworld (without percussion). The players’ fierce reading was an exhilarating conclusion, just as the same composer’s delicate yet hypnotically insistent Rebonds B (for percussion alone) had made a fascinating complement to the Holt.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms