UK’s Marmen Quartet Delights Packed House at RCA

The Marmen Quartet performed on Sunday February 5 at the Mary Irwin Theatre, their first concert in Kelowna since being awarded co-winners at the Banff International String Quartet Competition in 2019. The Marmen formed at the Royal College of Music in London in 2013 and in addition to their win at the BISQC, they won first prizes at the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition and the Royal Overseas League Competition, among other awards.  They will be in-residence at Southern Methodist University in April, working closely with its students, in addition to performing scheduled performances around the world.

Violinists Johannes Marmen and Laia Valentin Braun show an outstanding expressiveness, rich tone quality, and fluid technique and were evenly balanced tonally. Violist Bryony Gibson-Cornish has a warm, strong tone and a power which can carry right through the texture of the quartet.  Cellist Sinéad O’Halloran is an energetic performer with a very expressive face, fully engaged as she leaned towards the other string players, giving a strong foundation to the quartet.

The opening work was the Quartet in C Major, Op. 50, No. 2 (1787) by Joseph Haydn, who has been called the “father of the string quartet,” having spent fifty years creating and developing the four-movement form which subsequent composers used for centuries. In the opus 50 quartets, Haydn begins to show the influence of Mozart with more chromaticism in addition to being very lyrical. Thematic material is evenly distributed among the players who communicated with one another effectively through facial expressions and physical movements, creating a blended and beautiful sound.

Béla Bartók’s six quartets break new ground as he experimented with the harmonic system creating a dissonance which can be harsh at first hearing but soon becomes very exciting.  In addition, he called for the production of unusual percussive sounds on the instruments.  His Quartet No. 4 in C Major (1928) was played masterfully by the Marmen, seemingly with ease despite the speed and complexity of rhythm. It has five movements which are paired, the first being similar in style to the fifth, the second and fourth both playful with the fourth movement being all pizzicato.  The middle movement is a beautiful and mournful solo by the cellist, played with beauty and passion by Sineád O’Halloran and accompanied by the other strings.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet No.8, Opus 59, No. 2 (1807) is one of three dedicated to Count Razumovsky, who commissioned the works.  These pieces demonstrate a transition to a fuller, more orchestral style than previous works, bringing the string quartet onto a stage rather than in a parlour. At this time Beethoven was beginning to realize that he was losing his hearing and the emotion of that discovery translates into the music. In the second movement, the quartet showed “a great deal of feeling” as Beethoven requested, and created a beautifully lyrical, legato style. The musicians made certain expressive gestures, such as lingering on a particular note or subtly changing the tone colour, which touched the heart of the listener. The third movement consisted of variations on the theme of a Russian folk song, in which they played the complex rhythm with great accuracy and energy. They showed their technical skill again in the wild Slavonic dance of the last movement which went like a whirlwind!  

 Chamber Music Kelowna has been presenting first-class chamber music in Kelowna for 42 years, and a packed hall attests to the popularity of their choices.  The Mary Irwin Theatre was envisioned for just this type of performance and the audience’s expectations were exceeded yet again. 

Karen Krout is a retired musician who is grateful to live and play music with friends on the unceded traditional territory of the Syilx/Okanagan People. 

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