Review: Royal Quartet win over Glass sceptics on night to remember in Leamington

The Royal String Quartet from Poland. Picture: Lukasz Pepol

The Royal String Quartet from Poland. Picture: Lukasz Pepol

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Clive Peacock reviews the Royal String Quartet at the Pump Room, Leamington

Philip Glass is frequently described as the ‘marmite’ of modern music. For many of his ardent fans in the audience, he is the creator of classical music’s minimalism, developed during the 1960s. For the remainder in the audience the jury was out until Friday night.

Thanks to Royal’s performance of enormous poise, concentration, observation and deliberate potency, many changed their minds.

By 1985 Glass had passed a turning point in his musical development; the score for the film Mishima and the String Quartet No 3 which emerged being a big contributor to that turning point. The dour repeating rhythms of the sixties are now replaced by bright, lively, bold and attractive ones. The scores are mesmerising.

The driving rhythms and supreme timing established by a very determined leader, Izabella Szalaj-Zimak, left the Pump Room audience stunned and in awe. BBC Radio 3 recorded this event; it will surely be recommended listening on Wednesday evening for those in the audience and, hopefully, a much wider audience.

Further surprises were in store as Górecki’s Quartet No 1, composed in 1988, its intensely persistent rhythms in stark contrast to his early works in which he favoured serialism and dissonance. Dramatic opening chords sustained by the viola followed by a plethora of unison chords, were played with immense energy and dynamism.

Speaking of dissonance, Mozart’s opening bars of his String Quartet 19 in C creat a feeling of unease for many before the uncomplicated openness for which the composer is best known takes over. To complete an exhausting evening, viola player Marek Czech introduced the encore – a Royal specialism – the second movement from Zemlinsky’s Quartet No 2. A January night to remember in Leamington.

* The concert took place on Friday January 27. Visit leamingtonmusic.org for details of other concerts organised by Leamington Music.