Carducci String Quartet

Moving on Music programme an energising and enthusiastic evening of classical music at the MAC

The distinguished opera critic of the Spectator recently reported 'almost weeping from the agonising monotony', as he fled the arena midway through a five-hour-long performance of American composer Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach.

Glass's music can do that to people. You either view the chugging repetition of basic motor-rhythms, on which much of it is predicated, as the sonic equivalent of Chinese water torture, or lock into its mesmerisingly motoric shape-making as a species of musical meditation. 'Rock music for Buddhists', as one wit put it.

Glass's String Quartet No.5 is on the menu at the third chamber concert in Belfast's new MAC venue, a series superbly programmed and curated by Moving on Music.

It turns out to be a relatively spry, chipper kind of piece. At 25 minutes it's one of Glass's terser emissions. Or, at least, so it seems in the brightly optimistic account given by the Anglo-Irish Carducci String Quartet, currently engaged in recording all of the composer's string quartets for Naxos Records.

Cellist Emma Denton stands out particularly, cleverly energising and subtly varying the pulsing seed-motifs that generate momentum in the opening movement. She also soulfully unravels the long cantabile melody Glass writes for cello later.

Though the work has darker shadings, Quartet 5 is Glass in predominantly genial temper. The score is full of smiles and jokery (is that a stylised klezmer parody I hear at the conclusion?), leavened with dashes of the haunted urban melancholia that often surfaces in the composer's music.

Light dominates Haydn's so-called Sunrise Quartet (his Op. 76, No. 4), with which the Carduccis open the recital. Here it's first violinist Matthew Denton who catches the attention, his sappy, songful phrasing a constant illuminator of Haydn's elegantly crafted lyric writing.

Droll and pointed in his duetting with the cello in the adagio, Denton snaps the swagger of the bucolic Menuetto firmly into focus, and drives the accelerating coda of the finale with a dynamism pointing clearly forward to the quartet work of Beethoven.

Irish guitarist Michael O'Toole joins the Carducci Quartet for the world premiere of Belfast composer Ian Wilson's Stille, nacht, a 'night piece inspired by the constellated sky and the idea of gathering darkness'.

Reminiscent of Britten's Nocturnal, the piece also, oddly, recalls Haydn's Farewell Symphony in its strategy of gradually withdrawing content ('taking away', as Wilson puts it) from the music's substance as it progresses. The impression of an ink-black firmament, lonely stars twinkling in the isolated immensity of outer space, is palpable at the work's conclusion.

O'Toole stays on stage for Boccherini's Guitar Quintet No. 4, with its famous 'Fandango' finale. Emma Denton slaps enthusiastically on the soundbox of her cello, replacing the castanets that are sometimes used in performances.

O'Toole and the Carduccis get the happy idiom of Boccherini's piece (think early Mozart with an astringent drizzle of Vivaldi) just right. They clearly relish the easy flow of melody and chirpy rhythms of the writing.

It's a cheerful end to another excellent classical concert at the MAC. The new venue has identified a yawning gap in local music provision, and with Moving on Music's imaginative programming input, they have made a great start filling it.

To find out about more Classical Music events, check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On guide.

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