by Anthony Kershaw
March 28, 2013. Walter Hall, Toronto, ON — The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Recital Series afforded England’s Tippett Quartet its Toronto debut. The club seems to be able to pick the very best undiscovered or young Canadian and international ensembles to play for its large membership.
The Tippett Quartet takes its name from the great English composer, Sir Michael Tippett (1905 – 1998). The group was formed in 1998 when the founding members met studying at London’s Royal College of Music.
They began their interesting program with their namesake’s 5th String Quartet. It was the composer’s last quartet, written in 1991. The quartet is typical of Tippett’s later style — elegiac melodies, exotic harmony, complex outbursts interrupted by quiet, reflective passages. It’s a superb work echoing much that is wonderful in Tippett’s orchestral writing (Concerto for Orchestra, Triple Concerto) rather than his less successful vocal works. Tippett would have been proud of the quartet’s performance. The give and take in the many tempo changes were smooth and the interplay between the two violinists was superb. Even more amazing considering the late inclusion of Anna Smith as substitute for an indisposed Jeremy Isaac, 2nd violin.
The quartet played their arrangement of Bernard Herrmann’s music from Hitchcock’s Psycho. Herrmann’s use of muted strings to echo the black and white film transferred well to one on a part. They played it brilliantly. The high pitched shrieking at the movies’ famous shower scene bought nervous smiles and giggles from the audience. Splendid!
The second half was made up of a superb ‘with no guts, there is no glory’ performance of a string quartet’s toughest slog, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131. This seminal work is the test of tests for a string quartet, technically and musically. The Tippetts connected the movements logically, played with admirable precision and sustained the slow movements beautifully. Only at the very end did fatigue effect intonation and ensemble. The audience gave the English guests rapturous approval.
The players are members of Britain’s famous orchestras (BBC Symphony, English Chamber Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic) and have recently been appointed quartet in residence at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.
John Mills, violin
Anna Smith, violin
Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, viola
Bozidar Vukotic, cello
Sir Michael Tippett – String Quartet No.5
Bernard Herrmann – Psycho Suite for string quartet
Ludwig van Beethoven – String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131