Review: City of Birmingham String Quartet, at CBSO Centre

It is good to be present at history-in-the-making as we were for the first performance of the String Quartet No.3 (commissioned by these performers) by the acclaimed Birmingham–based composer Ivor McGregor,

There are two parts to this work, the Sonata starting with clean quirky entries, dynamic and totally controlled by the four musicians. A delightful lightness supports flowing cello lines interjected with violin and viola ‘sparks’.

At times haunting downward skitterings bring to mind a touch of Britten, then change rapidly back to McGregor. In the second half, inspired by the Viol Fantazias of Purcell, there is beautifully controlled soft interweaving from all instruments, a fascinating work of soulful sonorities to mercurial rhythms, with perfect 5ths explored throughout, including a poignant quote from Nick Drake’s Riverman.

This was a truly accessible world premiere, of which I for one, would have happily accepted an immediate repeat presentation with a smile on my face.

A meaty performance of Beethoven’s first ‘Razumovsky’ string quartet began with fine impetus, excellent balance and obvious enjoyment from the artistes.

And as Beethoven remarked: “The cello is kept very busy” a delightful challenge throughout. Count Razumovsky’s musicians were recognised as some of the finest in Europe, therefore specially composed works were always encouraged.

A vivacious scherzo swung between musical conversations and vibrant lively discussion, contrasting greatly with the moving, sombre Adagio: pianissimo flowing lines over discreet accompaniments.

Truly notable wide dynamic range is a joy with these musicians, ending with foot tapping Russian energy.