The Piatti String Quartet completed their week-long Arts Festival residency in St Mary’s Church on Saturday evening, September 27, with perhaps the most fascinating of their four formal concerts. Opening with an exceptionally expressive account of Haydn’s ‘Emperor’ quartet, the post-interval works included the original quartet version of Wolf’s ‘Italian Serenade’ played with just the right elements of liveliness and lightness; and the entire programme concluded with a deeply-felt and suitably joyous interpretation of Dvorak’s Opus 106 quartet.
These are, in different ways, established masterpieces of the repertoire but the most notable event of the night, placed before the interval, and exciting animated discussion after, was the first string quartet by the young British composer Joseph Phibbs, born in 1974.
Before the concert the composer engaged in a question and answer session, chaired by Peter Brice from the Festival committee, with valuable contributions by the Piatti’s ‘cellist Jessie Ann Richardson. Mr Phibbs distinguished himself as a modest and very thoughtful commentator on his own music and on music in general, while Richardson eloquently explained how the Piatti had commissioned the quartet from the composer and had arranged sponsorship to support its completion.
The work itself, about 16 minutes long, proved remarkable indeed. The first of its five movements is of extreme simplicity and quietude, the intensity of the playing compelling the audience’s attention and doing so throughout. The ‘con forza’ second movement is powerful, almost aggressive. A calmer section follows and the third movement has testing ‘pizzicato’ from each of the instrumentalists, while the fourth movement contains unresolved emotion, reflected in the music’s considerable perturbation. The final ‘vocalise’ returns us to the stillness of the beginning, with sustained notes finally concluding ambiguously with either calm or desolation, perhaps both.
Nathaniel Anderson-Frank and Michael Trainor (violins), David Wigram (viola) and Jessie Ann Richardson (‘cello) played this deeply affecting music with total commitment and outstanding skill; I, for one, found this quartet completely absorbing, full of mystery and beauty. We thank Paul Saulter, the concert’s sponsor and, especially, Peter Brice, whose daring innovation of a quartet residency in the festival’s classical music section, succeeded magnificently, with the Piatti creating something unique for the festival and for the cultural life of Rye.
The images are by kind permission of the Piatti Quartet and of Joseph Phibbs