Rye Arts Festival began unprecedentedly early, last Friday Jukly 21, with a very clear foretaste of the further delights to come. The Archaeus String Quartet, based in Robertsbridge, performed a varied and compelling programme in the wonderfully refurbished fourteenth century Austin Friars’ monastery on Conduit Hill, a building known to most of us only from its intriguing exterior but now revealed as a perfect setting for music making.
The programme began with the fourth quartet of Haydn’s last completed set of six, Opus 76 and the Archaeus brought out every aspect of the composer’s still vital invention, originality and warm humanity. Succeeding this was a vivid one movement work by a composer of whom I knew nothing: Leonard Salzedo. His first completed quartet, written when he was 21, won him the Royal College of Music composition prize in 1942, when World War II was by no means won. The fact that Salzedo was a Sephardic Jew, whose ancestors had come to Britain many years before, gives this intense work added power. A member of the audience told me that the contrasting loud and soft alternating sections of the work suggested to her the air raid warning siren and contrasting all clear that she recalled from wartime.
The programme concluded with a titanic work from the quartet canon: Beethoven’s third Rasumovsky (so named after the Russian Count who commissioned them), and the Archaeus did this magnificent and deeply moving masterpiece full justice, bringing out both its emotional depth and its, in the end, unfathomable mystery. Still not done, the Archaeus concluded delightfully with a minuet by the boy Schubert, still then an apprentice genius.
Mike Eve, Chair of the Festival Committee, who conceived this event with Alex Macarthur, the Monastery’s owner, introduced the evening by commenting that the remarkable building was being “brought back to life”. He spoke the truth. Alex Macarthur is undertaking something which will benefit the whole of Rye and all who live in and visit the town; we are all in her debt. Alex is to be applauded for generously organising free tours of the Monastery throughout the Festival itself; don’t miss your chance to sign up for a Monastery visit so you can see the wonders being wrought by Alex Macarthur.
Photo: Kenneth Bird