Ipswich Chamber Music Society explores ‘On Wenlock Edge’

Coull String Quartet performed On Wenlock Edge as part of Ipswich Chamber Music Society's concert in

Coull String Quartet performed On Wenlock Edge as part of Ipswich Chamber Music Society's concert in Ipswich Corn Exchange Photo: Coull String Quartet - Credit: Archant

Review: Ipswich Chamber Music Society, Coull String Quartet, February 15

A concert with a string quartet generally sticks to the established repertoire. A viola or cello might be added but, in an enterprising touch, the society added two well established local artists for a performance of Vaughan Williams' 1909 song cycle 'On Wenlock Edge'.

AE Housman's collection of sixty-three poems 'A Shropshire Lad' was published in 1896, becoming particularly popular during World War I when it accompanied many a young soldier into the trenches. His elegiac tone combined with lyricism and folk qualities made an immediate (and continuing) impression on composers and all but eight of the poems have been set to music by, inter alia, Ernest Moeran, Lennox Berkeley, Samuel Barber and Henryk Gorecki.

Vaughan Williams took just six poems, the first giving the title to the complete cycle. The bleak, windy setting (complemented outside the hall) was perfectly captured with tremolando strings and piano. The nostalgia of third poem was subtly underlined by the muted strings. Richard Edgar- Wilson's rounded, lustrous tone added a layer of dignity to the sombre words of Bredon and, indeed, permeated every corner of the music. Andrew Leach's clear, respectful accompaniment gave discrete cohesion to an immensely satisfying experience.

Schubert's early quartet in Eb D87 aided by the sprightly contributions of violinists Roger Coull and Phillip Gallaway was a real pleasure, easy on the ear and with some arresting moments that point towards greater things to come.

Frank Bridge's Three Idylls of 1906 perhaps encapsulate his achievement and reputation - music of considerable craft and originality yet somehow missing the stamp of genius. Jonathan Barritt made the most of the intense viola opening line and Nicholas Roberts' dynamic cello was prominent in the final piece. Full marks for the opportunity to hear these infrequently performed works so well played.

Alongside the other two expansive quartets the third Rasumovsky is sometimes underestimated. However, this performance clearly showed Beethoven at his most creative, particularly in the searching harmonies of the first movement. The expertise and experience of the players came to the fore in the virtuosic finale and bought the evening to a worthy conclusion.