Solem Quartet began their residency at ths year's Norfolk & Norwich Festival last Wednesday with a themed evening entitled 'Courage', continuing a performance cycle of Beethoven and Bartók quartets which they commenced in 2020, partnering them ech time with newly commissioned works. Last night, as we approach the conclusion of this year's Festival, violinists Amy Tress and William Newell, viloist Stephen Upshaw, and cellist Stephanie Tress returned to The Octagon Chapel with a second evening of Beethoven and Bartók, this time with the title 'Life Episodes'.
Taking inspiration from Beethoven's 'Heiliger Dankgesang', one of the last pieces he wrote as he lay dying, this second concert also featured projected scenes from a new film by Jessie Rodger, entitled 'The Quartet'. They featured four individuals whose own 'life episodes' are shared with us – a young Sikh man whose gay marriage sent shockwaves through his community, and caused him to ask questions of his own faith; a musician whose diagnosis of Ménière's disease threatened to destroy his writing and recording career; a mother who attempts to come to terms with the death of her young adult son; and a classical musician whose Ehlers Danlos Syndrome causes constant chronic pain, meaning that she had to foresake her career as a concert flautist.
But the evening began with Béla Bartók's String Quartet No.2, which was composed in Hungary during World War I and comprises three movements that have been seen as representative of a yearning for peace and intense suffering, separated only by the animated and lively rondo contained within the second movement.
Following the interval we were treated to the world premiere of Edmund Finnis' 'Devotions (String Quartet No3)'. Comprising eight short movements, Finnis (who is in the audience tonight) sees this work as an expression of solace intertwined with sorrow. Movingly performed tonight by the members of Solem, the eight separate movements allow the mood to rise and fall as the piece unfurls, passing through periods of tranquility, agitation, and pensiveness. And yet, throughout the work is found a cycle of overlapping and recurring melodies, surrounded by swelling harmonies and a sense of the liturgic.
Edward Finnis joins members of Solem to share in the audience's enthusistic applause before the concert concludes with the transcendental third movement from Beethoven's String Quartet No 15, written less than two years before his death in 1827. Literally a 'Holy Song of Thanksgiving', 'Heiliger Dankgesang' seems to pre-empt many of the themes explored in Jessie Rodgers' film, and ideas expressed by Bartók and Finnis in their respective works performed during this concert.
Many thanks and congratulations to Solem Quartet – it has been really wonderful having such a talented young ensemble with us for almost the entire duration of the Festival. We have enjoyed their sense of innovation, as well as their skill and artistry, in delivering a programme of live performances, and finding the time to work with local music students and visit local schools. Let us hope that music programmer James Hardy and his team at NNF can repeat this year's success, and deliver something equally as enthralling for next year's programme.