Review: Hymn, Alan Bennett & Borodin, The Ward Quartet with Brian Theodore Ralph, Music in Felixstowe, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, October 14

Brian Theodore Ralph with The Ward Quartet

Brian Theodore Ralph with The Ward Quartet - Credit: Archant

Music in Felixstowe, which organises several chamber type concerts every year took to the road on Friday, bringing to Aldeburgh the intriguing pairing of Alan Bennett’s one act play ‘Hymn’ alongside Borodin’s second string quartet.

The writer’s popularity (deemed to be a living national treasure) did not pull in the crowds but it was a good opportunity to hear this well-crafted work which is interspersed with music by George Fenton.

Much of the text focuses on Bennett’s early years and musical awakening, from his unhappy attempts to learn the violin from his father to his frequent visits to hear the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra in Leeds Town Hall. One of the best passages sees one of his orchestral heroes reduced to a mere mortal as he joins Bennett on the same bus after the concert, instrument in hand, cigarette between his lips.

Brian Theodore Ralph, a hero of the early years of the Wolsey Theatre neatly captured the essence of Bennett, close enough to convince without attempting to imitate. Even a string quartet can easily mask a single voice and the Ward Quartet successfully created a discrete but interesting musical backdrop with Rebecca Scott beautifully illustrating all the pain of an early violin lesson.

Borodin is a composer who seems to be having a spell in the shade but his music has a distinctive quality that is always worth hearing. The second string quartet is one of his best and best known works, not least for its appearance in the musical Kismet. It has some sumptuous melodies, particularly in the slow movement and cellist Harriet Bennett and violist Wendy Poulston responded with a warm and resonant tone. There is also much energetic and extrovert writing (suggestive of the composer’s rather hectic lifestyle which suddenly ended on the dance floor) and first violin Nicholas Ward gave a good lead with plenty of momentum and rhythmic security. A few moments of hazy intonation apart, this was a well-shaped and successful performance.

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The commitment and quality of the performances certainly deserved an audience of more than twenty-one but the enthusiastic response spoke volumes. Somehow there was something rather Alan Bennett-like about the evening and I think he himself would have enjoyed it; I certainly did.

Gareth Jones

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