Live Review: Quartet @ Four Bars

Heading to Womanby Street for a concert is a standard experience for many a Cardiff music lover. At Four Bars on Sunday 30th June, however, Sinfonia Cymru String Quartet were tuning and warming up in the corner – not your typical pub gig. Curtains closed, dim mood lighting, a selection of tables and chairs. Instantly the space is cosy, inviting. The audience was pretty varied, from students to the standard ‘classical music concert’ attendee but all were generally relaxed, chatting, enjoying a beverage in anticipation for the evening to begin.

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The programme began with the 1st movement off Schulhoff’s Five pieces for string quartet, a piece and composer I hadn’t come across before and a really great discovery. An exciting opening to the concert that had a real crunch to the sound and a great drive for its use of the Waltz form. Other highlights of the programme included Sibelius’ String Trio in G Minor, a beautiful piece that really does move the listener. Full of lush harmonies and understated melodies, lovely.

This was followed by some standard string repertoire from Haydn, Handel and Bach, all played very well. The choice of the 1st movement from Shostakovich’s String Quartet no. 6 seemed odd, mainly as there is a large amount of great string quartet music by Shostakovich, and this movement is perhaps not one of his best. Finally, to finish the programme the quartet played the end of Schulhoff’s Five pieces for string quartet. This worked nicely, the piece acting as book-ends to the programme. The programme as a whole was concise and showcased some of the best qualities of string quartet music.

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The presenter, Helen Woods, added a friendly element to the concert, further removing ideas of elitism that can very often be associated with classical music. A selection of audience participation games and jokes, some cheesier than others, attempted to keep the evening light and did so relatively successfully. These games included a drinking competition, an opportunity for a “selfie” with the quartet (topical) and trying to find someone in the audience with the same birthday as a composer on the programme. Particularly successful was the live remix of some Mozart. Each table was asked to role a die, the number of which determined what bar would be played and in what order, chosen from a 6 bar phrase of Mozart. The quartet then played this ‘remixed’ rendition according to what number bars had been arrived at from the dice throws.

When I initially considered a String Quartet playing in a more ‘modern’ setting I imagined that the programme would also reflect this decision, but almost all the repertoire was written over one hundred years ago. Perhaps introducing an unfamiliar audience to some contemporary works is something to consider for the next time.

If you fancy giving classical music a go without having to deal with the etiquette that can come from attending a performance at a concert hall, Quartet is for you. Even if you’re a regular concert goer, it makes a change to be able to listen to a talented ensemble with a beer in hand.

Photos by Kevin Pick