Gate String Quartet

Seen on May 26, 2016 @ St Andrew’s Drill, Grahamstown

With no clue to the name of the first public performance and an intriguing scene set for a murder mystery, we anticipate this evening’s ouverture of Grahamstown’s newly formed Gate String Quartet: Duncan Samson (violin), Hayley Jackson (violin), Lizzie Rennie (viola) and Lindsay Johnston (cello).

With the Overture of Johan Fischer’s Tafelmusic the tune is set for an elegant, well played and enjoyable evening, hanging between utter delight and wonderful surprises.

The not often played String Quartet No 19 from Mozart has a surprising opening, not the frivolous Mozart as he is so often now, but a more mature tribute to Haydn. Playful violins with heavy stricken cellos and an important role for every instrument. They all add their weight to the scale, C major. Playing with minor and major keys and traditional quartet forms every instrument gets a distinct voice.

After the interval, the Gate String Quartet continues with Traditional & O’Carolan – Irish Sherry Suite which gathers the listener with subdued folk and irresistible recognizability and a diversity of techniques to fiddle around.

The world premiere of Andrew-John Bethke’s String Quartet No 1 is an experiment in juxtaposing African genres with western classical forms. The first movement Con spiritu is reminiscent of the strumming of the West African kora. Moderato is based on a Rwandan lament with call and response in two variations. Haunting like a heartfelt prayer. In Energetico colonial music from Europe finds it counterpart in the sophisticated heavy foot and a more dissonant and modulatory language. The lively qn joyous fourth movement Vivace celebrates the festive township vibes of the Soweto String Quartet and the ancient sounds that travel from far (Egyptian oud). Attuned to African themes and the Western classical tradition Bethke works within a city and country and turmoil where harmonies can be found and sounds capture the imaginations where uniting voices come to an accord. Bethke’s String Quartet No 1 demands a lot from the listener, but its creativity makes one contemplate what is possible in Africa. A work that deserved its long applause.

Three movements from Anita Hewitt-Jones’ The Violetta Quartet take back to accessible chamber music that rounds up a most rewarding evening.