Banff International String Quartet Competition 2013
John Terauds – Musical Toronto:
‘The Navarra Quartet, made up of musicians from the British Isles and the Netherlands, brought me to tears with Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 3, from 1975. They captured his slow and at times angry dance with mortality with remarkably tightly contained power.’
Calgary Herald – Stephen Bonfield
‘There were several other fascinating performances. The Navarra Quartet’s (UK/Ireland/Netherlands) ethereal performace of the Britten third quartet comes to mind immediately. Here was a performance that captured the eerie atmosphere and spacious design of the work, clearly conceived as a kind of written-down free improvisation, the spirit of which seemed to channel Britten directly into the Eric Harvie theatre. Imparting a sense of architecture to what is essentially a free-form piece is very difficult to do, yet the Navarra Quartet did just that and brought off this poignant late work of the composer with a memorable performance that has had many talking about it for the past couple of days.’
‘The Navarra Quartet (UK/Ireland/the Netherlands) took on Haydn’s challenging late quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2, and brought forth a good reading of the composer’s last work in the genre. With its multiplicitous ideas, the group focused more on tone and handling of Haydn’s late stylistic approaches to motive. The quartet wrestled well with the challenge of cobbling together a coherent narrative from this interpretively difficult piece.’
‘In the Navarra Quartet’s performance of Brahms’ quartet in C minor, opus 51, no. 1, this group certainly showed a strong grasp of the piece, particularly in the opening movement’s development section and seem to grasp Brahms’ use of extended thematic architecture quite well. Interpreting complex musical architecture is this group’s forte, and risking that on a Brahms quartet turned out to be the right choice. And they certainly captured the drippingly lyrical, lengthy second movement well. These virtues will put them in good stead Sunday afternoon when they tackle one of Beethoven’s difficult Razumovsky quartets.’
Myra Herron from Hudson Sounds
‘Navarra Quartet played Beethoven Op. 59 No. 2. It was immensely enjoyable and prize-worthy.’
Calgary Herald -Stephen Bonfield
‘And we cannot forget the Navarra Quartet, who gave us so many
memorable performances this past week, including a moving and brilliant reading of Vivian Fung’s Quartet No. 3, and a masterly accounting of Britten’s Third String Quartet that will stay with me forever. Their interpretation of the Beethoven Razumovsky E minor quartet was replete with nuanced dynamics and articulation, ultimately scaffolding a sense of phrasing that was constantly supple, and never overworked. Perhaps what I appreciated most about Navarra’s playing, both yesterday and throughout the competition, was that they led me to always wonder what would happen next. Even though one may already know the notes full well of a given piece, I always came away with the sense that Navarra had something new to teach me every time I listened.’
’Certainly one of the best of the four offerings of the Schubert E flat major quartet was the Navarra quartet, who showed balance, elegance, gestural contrast, tonal understanding, lyricism and a good core sound.’
BY STEPHAN BONFIELD, CALGARY HERALD SEPTEMBER 1, 2013
’I settled into my seat, filled with anticipation for hearing the ten competing quartets play Vivian Fung’s brand new String Quartet No. 3 in round three of the Banff International String Quartet Competition.
This is actually one of my most favourite rounds, taking in new music composed earlier this year, and after hearing the composer talk about its genesis, a contemplation of her own inwardly focused dark journey through a meditative landscape about the human condition and her own purpose within it, I was all the more stoked. This was bound to be a moving work, a passionate prayer of sorts describing the sudden swings of thought that exist within us, ranging from quiet and contemplative, to explosive and anguished, much like the external world we observe around us.>
When the Navarra Quartet (UK/Ireland/the Netherlands) took their places as the fifth group and last to play before intermission, I was quite unprepared for how they would interpret Ms. Fung’s score. Over the years, denizens of this tri-ennial competition know that ten quartets will likely give ten vastly different offerings of the CBC/Banff Centre co-commissioned work, that it will be challenging but still idiomatically written for strings, difficult to execute, and filled with interpretively dangerous waters which these young artists must navigate. But I was not expecting the wonderful reading given by the Navarra Quartet.
In their accounting, I could also recall Ms. Fung’s eloquent anguish during her pre-concert talk over the Connecticut school shootings whose reports we horribly witnessed last year, in addition to the tremendous world conflict that she was documenting, relevant at this moment in Syria, all against a backdrop of her own personal revelations about her family’s history and its journeys of struggle. Indeed, this work could one day be nicknamed along the lines of String Quartet No. 3 – the “Dark Journeys” quartet.
Navarra Quartet transfixed me with its beautiful conveyance of the composer’s interior world immediately from the start when they played the opening cluster chord.
They understood the Middle Eastern prayer sections and the mixed narratives inspired by Schnittke’s chamber works (one of Ms. Fung’s favourite composers and one of mine too), which often contain scalding evocations of confronting mortality. These were juxtaposed frequently with slower sections that could be heard as chordal echoes of the transcendent mystical parallelism found in many of Messaien’s compositions, which required pellucid playing. Contrasting textured sections were frequently punctuated by furious bowing, glissandi, bowslap, rapid arpeggiation, and a whole host of requisite idiomatic features demanded of the performers.
The key for each ensemble was to make it cohere as one continuous story. Moreover, performers had to refrain from simply executing the gestures merely for their own expressive sake, thereby decontextualizing them from Ms. Fung’s personal spiritual narrative, and isolating them as gratuitous sounds. Some of the performers avoided this risk by bringing highly personalized interpretations to the work themselves. Those were the quartets who succeeded most yesterday, although it must be stated that there were many fine details of artistic merit to appreciate, far too many to name here, in nearly every group’s interpretation.
Ms. Fung’s featured quartet ends with a section of compositional inspiration: a repeated four-note chaconne of lament, possibly for the cruelty visited on human beings. One portion of this section is quasi-improvisational and marked Full Vibrato Freely with Anguish. Here, a delicate touch is required from the performers and an especially careful tone too, so as to impart either a funereal atmosphere or ethos of spiritual repose, however one chooses to read the concluding section’s broadly metaphorical meaning.
But it was the Navarra Quartet that won me heart and soul, and convinced me of the mettle of Ms. Fung’s new piece. They are the ones who first coerced the work’s narrative into coherence for me, alternating great dramatic suspense one moment with intense sublime contrast the next. After the parallel-chord Mideast-inspired section, the slowly building descending passage immediately following it (and one of the most difficult to dramatically pull off in the piece) cascaded with profoundest energy, as though depicting an individual’s right to spiritual self-determination were being snatched away peremptorily.
There was a splendid accounting of harmonic availability in the quieter passages of sublime heterophonic chant – they really understood this – and I was dragged along inside the composer’s hurt. They utterly captured the poignancy of the work’s poetry.
But it was their moving accounting of the concluding chaconne that impressed me most and for which I was the least emotionally prepared, particularly in the Full Vibrato with Anguish section. It seemed as though I felt the whole ensemble weep, and I with them.’
Beethoven, bitterballen en vibrato, veel vibrato
door Jan Joris Nieuwenhuis
Iedereen was het er afgelopen donderdag over eens: daar zat een waanzinnig prachtig strijkkwartet te spelen op het podium van de kapel van Hof 88 in Almelo. Maar waarom? Waarom is het Navarra Quartet zo’n prachtig strijkkwartet? Omdat ze in elkaars huid kruipen, omdat ze bezig zijn met balans, met intensiteit, met kleur, met tempo, met stemming, met vibrato! Vibrato is een sterk onderschatte techniek. Elke techniek kan je leren. Zo is het ook met vibrato. Er zijn vele soorten vibrato: snel, langzaam, klein, groot. Een matig musicus, die de techniek niet beheerst, kan zijn/haar vibrato alleen maar aan- of uitzetten, of in het slechtste geval, alleen maar aan… Het Navarra Quartet gebruikt vibrato zoals het bedoeld is: als een expressiemiddel. Het speelt bewust zonder, of met een beetje, of versnellend, of met veel, of in een begeleidende stem zonder en in de melodiestem met, of… Ik vind het heerlijk om op dat soort dingen te letten en te zien en te horen dat daar over nagedacht wordt. Dat bepaalt de kwaliteit van een ensemble. Je kan vier uitstekende strijkers bij elkaar zetten en een kwartet laten spelen, maar dan heb je nog geen strijkkwartet! Wij, de Stichting Kamermuziek Almelo, hadden de mazzel dat dit prachtige concert ook nog eens ons 200ste was. U, het publiek, had de mazzel dat dat resulteerde in een vrolijke verloting en bitterballen in de pauze. Wij samen hebben de mazzel dat we nog maar aan het begin van dit Beethovenfeest staan. Dit was nog maar het 2de concert. Er komen er nog 6! Ga erheen. Het is een feest!!
Navarra String Quartet at Kings Place – Haydn, Vasks & Brahms
Making its debut at the London Chamber Music Series at Kings Place, the Navarra String Quartet was to have given the first performance of a work by James Francis Brown, but its non-appearance saw it replaced with the Third String Quartet (1995) of Peteris Vasks. Not the only composer to have had his 15 minutes of relative fame, after to become better known through recordings rather than performances, the Latvian continues to pursue his effective synthesis of folk-inflected elements within a musical language broadly in the Shostakovich tradition – confirmed by the driving impetus of the present work’s scherzo-like second movement and the more febrile stages of its finale. Elsewhere a meditative atmosphere tends to predominate, whether in the alternately ethereal and hymn-like opening Moderato or the sustained yet often anguished Adagio, before the work ends in a mood of eloquent though hardly unequivocal calm. A fine showing from the Navarra musicians, their recent recording of this and other string quartets by Vasks (Challenge Classics) is worth investigating.
Auditorium du Louvre, 5 October 2012
Auditorium du Louvre, 5 October 2012
From the beginning, the exquisite sonority of the instruments was remarkable… It was striking that this was a quartet of young players playing a young quartet [Mozart K.159], as their sound was one of very mature instrumental mastery. The players showed with precision and firmness the joyful mixture of intimacy and openness that is at the heart of this movement. The Allegro in G minor which followed returned at once to the same tonality of the two symphonies which Mozart would go on to compose and which would become some of his greatest works (K. 183 and K. 550). In this passionate, imposing and dark movement, the quartet played with vivacity and a certain gravity, almost singing in a way which was not without an air of fury. The final Rondo, full of sensuality, had an equal amount of character. The players’ attention to chromatic modulations created an atmosphere of general amusement and well-defined contrasts – especially appropriate given the tragicomedy aspect of the young Mozart’s work.
[Levinas No. 3] These are two sirens we listen to […] The influence of spectral music is obvious. These sirens are constantly changing and are in fact contemporary variations on a postmodern theme. […] There is a deeply interesting exoteric message behind the sirens. The tension of the movement was engrossing and the players precise and focussed. Towards the end, the neurosis, astounding and disturbing, became clear but yielding to the course, in the only quiet moment of the piece, as if the sirens were suddenly in a sort of hallucinatory trance which ended abruptly with a sharp dissonance.
The first movement of the quartet [Debussy in G minor] began with the security of a required tempo. The cello was active and often seductive. The discourse of each instrument was one of amazing individuality as was the treatment of musical themes. A movement of exotic character and exuberance, here the second violinist was completely free, delivering a certain pagan splendour and mystery, mixed with a certain vital energy with the airy lightness typical of Debussy’s symbolism.
In the second movement it was the turn of the viola to emancipate itself. The atmosphere was dancing and always exotic, the ostinato and the pizzicato by Debussy perfectly controlled by the performers, creating an atmosphere that seemed more tribal than ceremonial. It is a complex and evocative musical landscape, packed with gypsy-like and Javanese sonorities.
The Andantino which followed was one of quiet and airy sweetness, sensual, even sublime. It was like hearing the instruments being stroked. The musicians played seamlessly and meticulously, never hesitating before the composer’s extremely original chromaticism. The subtle exuberance of this movement is like a warm and meditative awakening, the silences and sighs of which are eloquent and meaningful. The Finale was the moment for the first violin to prove its capabilities. The timbre and the colours were stunning, the pace invigorating. The tonal adventures here were dark but exhilarating; the movement, filled with transcendent modulations with stoic intervals and ostinato, was a true sensorial ecstasy.
The concert ended in an exalted state of mind with great applause, and musicians gave us the last movement of a Mozart quartet as an encore, finishing of the evening with a joie de vivre that was not without humor or character.
Queen Elizabeth Hall, 27-04-2011
Padmore / Vignoles / Navarra Quartet, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (Rated 5/ 5)
Reviewed by Michael Church
Monday, 2 May 2011
After 20 years of knocking about with the best in the business, the tenor Mark Padmore has some distinguished people to call on for a concert billed as “Mark Padmore and Friends”.
He also has a brilliant recipe. His penchant for programmes based on a “conversation between pieces” led him to pair Vaughan Williams and Ravel, partly because of their shared tastes and partly because of their friendship and the traumas of the First World War, in which both were medics on the front line.
Their relationship started when Vaughan Williams, feeling his music had become “lumpy and stodgy” and in need of some “French polish”, took lessons from Ravel in Paris; Ravel later declared that the Englishman was the only pupil he had “who did not end up sounding like Ravel”. Both men, says Padmore, tried to escape from the Teutonic idea of music as argument, and to create the sonic equivalent of impressionism.
Opening with Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grècques, Padmore and his pianist, Roger Vignoles, demonstrated just how effectively the French composer achieved that aim. While the piano wove delicate modal patterns, the voice soared gracefully above: each song, with its hint of folk cadences, was a perfectly-realised miniature. Vaughan Williams’s ripostes – “The New Ghost”, “The Sky Above the Roof” and his extraordinary “Procris” and “Menelaus” – were infinitely more interesting in terms of harmony and texture than his orchestral works; these songs could compare with Britten’s.
And what performances they got. Vignoles’s artistry as an accompanist is second to none, supporting and subtly enhancing his singer’s effects; Padmore was on top form. It was less the beauty of his sound than its burning intensity, the sense of emotion stripped bare. When he bifurcated into two voices in “Is my team ploughing?”, the character speaking from the grave was a will-o’the-wisp, while the speaker from the land of the living answered with rolling red-bloodedness.
The other performers were the Navarra Quartet, who delivered Ravel’s String Quartet in F with transparent freshness. All in all, two hours in a sound-world of exceptional refinement and purity.
‘….the admirable Navarra String Quartet who realised the innovatively atmospheric quality of the string writing to perfection. They were equally accomplished in Ravel’s String Quartet, achieving a buoyancy and translucence that often evade higher profile ensembles.’
Evening Standard, 28 April
‘Ravel’s sole String Quartet received a remarkably focused performance from the young Navarra players, the sort of playing that really drew you into the music, with wonderfully open, guitar-like pizzicatos in the scherzo and all the elusive transparency of French light and shade you could ask for in the slow movement.’
Reviewed by: Peter Reed www.classicalsource.com
‘Ravel’s Quartet in F was given a buzzingly alive performance by the Navarra String Quartet, precisely tuned, with melodies emerging and receding into the diaphanous textures as if by sleight of hand.’
Guardian, Sunday 1 May 2011
5-Star review in BBC Music Magazine for Vasks recording!
About our release of the first three string quartets by Peteris Vasks on Challenge Records:
‘…this young UK-based ensemble understands his music down to the microsecond, and plays at a level that can be characterized as exceptional…’ Volkskrant, The Netherlands, September 2010
”The playing is nothing short of sensational, the precision and enormous dynamics absolutely thrilling, as is the clarity of recording.” DD Yorkshirepost.co October 2010
”They play this repertoire with the utmost conviction, and judging by the photo in the book, to the satisfaction of the composer.” Siebe Riedstra Luister november 2010
”We can be very brief about the Navarra Quartet: Amazing!” PS Mania Klassiek October 2010
”The stunning performance compensates a lot. The Navarra has specialized in a finely polished expression. Flawless intonations bring a sonority that causes a sensation in itself. Thiemo Wind Telegraaf 16 oktober 2010
Herald Newspaper, September 2010
Mozart Musical Journey, Lammermuir Festival
Festivals are for fun, and for doing “something a bit mad”. So said Hugh Macdonald, director of the new Lammermuir Festival, to the audience gathered in Garvald Church, as they waited serenely in the afternoon sunshine for the start of an epic day-long concert. The mad ones were presumably the Navarra Quartet, who had accepted the challenge of playing three concerts in one day. Without faltering, they took us by the hand, and lead us through six magical works by Mozart, Haydn and Schubert. For Schubert’s String Quintet – just a small parting gift at the end of the night – they were joined for double-cello effect by Edinburgh’s Philip Higham.
Our Mozart Musical Journey was combined with physical progress – three concerts in three different churches in East Lothian. Throughout the day, stories circulated of groups of walkers, or perhaps pilgrims, walking from venue to venue. Local villagers of all ages were seen leaving their pretty houses to hear the music, together with those of us who had meandered through the empty country roads from further afield.
By the end of the night, we had all travelled emotionally too. The effect of this music on its listeners was fresh and audible. The audience sighed with wonder after the Navarra’s First movement of the Haydn G minor Op20/3, (the start of the first concert), in a way that I have never quite heard before, while the wild rendition of the gypsy presto at the end of Haydn D major Op20/4 whipped them up into an excited chattering. The Schubert made a fittingly staggering end.
Having felt a little daunted by the prospect of an entire day of quartet concerts, in fact I found myself luxuriating in so much music, so well played. It was a wonderful indulgence to hear it all in one go, and from the hands of the Navarra. When they really go for it, their combined sound has a deeply satisfying sense of plenty of meat-on-the bone. They can conjure up a demented bluebottle in the last movement of Haydn’s D major, before their light touch sends it out, with absolutely no fuss, through the open window of the final bars.
And what a delight it is to hear Magnus Johnston, returning at last to full-time quartet playing. Whether it is turning a first violin flourish with elegance and ease, flying helter-skelter over the last movement of Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet, creating an exquisite fairy-like Trio in Mozart’s D minor, or a plaintive folk flautando in the E flat major’s Trio, to listen to him is to know you are where you should be.
Chamber Prom 2: Piemontesi/Navarra Quartet, Cadogan Hall
(Rated 4/ 5 )
Monday, 26 July 2010
With passport glitches, illness, and death wreaking more havoc than usual in concert schedules, we’re seeing just how big the available pool of talent is.
And while this indicates the challenge musicians now face, it also represents their opportunity: many now-famous singers and instrumentalists owe their careers to the sudden indisposition of a senior rival. This it was that the Navarra String Quartet got their unexpected Proms debut, while the young Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi had just a day in which to find his modus vivendi with them in one of the most demanding works in the chamber repertoire.
To Catherine Bott’s amiable enquiry as to how this speed-dating worked, he replied – slightly out of breath after stunning us with his Debussy – that ‘the human brain can achieve weeks of work in just two hours, if the pressure is intense enough’. And it clearly was: they launched into Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major with such assurance that they might have been collaborating for years. This majestic work was written by Schumann as a miniature piano concerto which his wife Clara could perform without orchestra in private houses: Piemontesi and the Navarras gave it the requisite declamatory spaciousness from the start. As with Schumann’s piano concerto proper, this work involves constant dialogue between soloist and ensemble: with Piemontesi leading the way, they made a thrilling journey through an emotional landscape by turns sweet, spooky, throbbingly combustible, and liberatingly joyous. And if this was a flawless performance, so was the Navarra Quartet’s treatment of one of Haydn’s early masterpieces, the G minor Quartet Opus 20. They have a warmly-rounded and very expressive sound, perfectly suited to Haydn: on this showing, they are already in the first rank of his music’s exponents. Meanwhile Piemontesi – one of the BBC’s New Generation artists – is a brand-leader for Debussy: using a completely different palette from the one he revealed in the Schumann, he gave a series of preludes the most exquisitely translucent characterisation.
BBC Music Magazine (Recording Haydn Seven Last Words, June 2009)
|‘…the players realize the music’s essential intensity…with their vivid sense of dramatic expression in an intensely detailed performance.’|
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Rheingau Musik Festival, July 2008)
|“A rarity, on the other hand, was a performance in the basilica by the Navarra Quartet of Haydn’s string quartet in G op.33 No. 5 and Mozart’s noticeable reference (to it – Haydn’s piece), the quartet No.15 in d KV 421; performed impulsively and dynamically, but also with admirable filigree by the musicians…. the Navarra quartet unfolds the adorable setting in Haydns largo or Mozart’s andante with breathtaking tension into full bloom’.|
The Strad (Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, July 2007))
|“‘The Navarra Quartet brought some good humoured playing to Haydn’s Op.64 No.6….many magical moments in Thomas Ades Arcadiana….the Mendelssohn was outgoing and it’s Schnittke fearless.|
ESTA Magazine, January 2006 (Soviet-Festival Manchester, January 2006)
|“The outstanding quartet playing of the whole Fest was giving us by the Navarra Quartet. The group formed at the RNCM in September 2002 with three Dutch members and an English cellist. It was no surprise that they were multi-prize-winners at home and abroad, and had gained the RNCM’s professional performance diploma with distinction. Joined by pianist, Vyacheslav Sidorenko, their Sunday afternoon recital of Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue No. 15, Schnittke’s quartet No. 3, Shostakovich’s piano quintet and Shostakovich No. 3 was a truly remarkable experience. Totally at one with the music and each other, these talented young players are on their way to top acclaim in the chamber music world. By comparison the St Petersburg Quartet…though superb, did not play with such all-consuming believe.”|
The Strad, January 2007 (Wigmore Hall, September 2006)
|“Moments of intuitive chamber work and cellist Nathaniel Boyd’s compelling melodic lines were signs of good things to come…Shostakovich’s marathon third quartet came to life in subtle shades of humour and gravity. The young anglo-dutch ensemble played with an uncanny wisdom….”|
The Musical Opinion (Purcell Room, September 2006)
|“The Navarra Quartet opened the programme exactly a hundred years after Shostakovich’s birth with the composers eight quartet, a reading of much insight and dedication.”|