Review: Poland's Royal String Quartet delight at Leamington concert

The Royal String Quartet
The Royal String Quartet

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

Returning for their eighth visit to Leamington, Poland’s Royal String Quartet made good use of their time in visiting local primary schools, a significant contribution to Leamington Music’s Education Programme. At Westgate Primary School, despite traffic hazards on two sides, there was a warm charm and pleasing stillness in a building which hasn’t changed much since Victorian days.

Leamington Music’s Schubert Trail continued apace with Royal’s interpretation of Quartettsatz in C minor D703 (1820) and the Quartet in A minor D804 (1824). The upcoming Leamington Festival will showcase several of his works, including his Piano Trio No 1, to be played by the acclaimed Leonore Trio.

Quartettsatz, in the hands of the Royal Quartet, receives the aggressive treatment when required. It is a huge shame that this single sonata form, marked Allegro assai, was the first and only movement of a quartet he didn’t complete. Musicologists suggest the work was put aside as Schubert felt unable to compose an effective following movement after such a powerful first. The conversational games the quartet played were a joy to watch.

James Macmillan’s Memento, a moving tribute to a dear friend, and Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, a set of variations on a six-bar theme requiring specially tuned replacement violin and viola prefaced Karol Szymanowski’s String Quartet No 1 in C Opus 37, Royal’s favourite Polish homeland music. Notwithstanding a change in personnel in the recent months, the players maintain their high standing. Izabella Szałaj-Zimak leads in a powerfully convincing manner; it’s hard to imagine this work being played more sensitively.

Schubert returned in the second half, his great 1824 Quartet in A minor D804 Rosamunde, played with considerable intensity and enjoying an exultant finish.

The Royal treated a near-full house to an encore – the 1972 Steve Reich minimalist Clapping Music – a work enthusiastically accompanied by the 119 pupils at Westgate Primary the day before!