THE world thankfully has many fine string quartets and a vast repertoire to draw on. To raise the profile of a relatively young professional quartet above those of its many excellent rivals, it is important to programme the concert with imagination and care and through the works to show and say something of real value.
In their first short tour with Concerts in the West, the Marmen Quartet demonstrated not only their substantial technique as individual players, but also their undoubted ability as an ensemble.
Fresh from winning the prestigious Royal Overseas League Ensemble 2018 Competition, Marmen performed with clear and accurate unity Ravel’s Quartet at St Roch Church, Pendomer. At the points in this work where there are real challenges to co-ordination, Marmen showed full control and tight ensemble. This and their choice of tempos go someway to explain their win in London.
One of Marmen’s particular features is the confidence of their bowing technique. There was always solidarity and togetherness including those moments in the Mendelssohn F minor Quartet slow moment when a fine sensitivity is required. This work, written by Mendelssohn following the death of his sister in 1847, and performed by Marmen at the Ilminster Arts Centre, was given an intense and highly charged interpretation that came across with complete sincerity. Weeks after the quartet’s completion, Mendelssohn himself was dead at the age of 38.
Other quartets performed at the series’ other venues (the Dance House, Crewkerne and Bridport Arts Centre) were Haydn’s relatively unknown work in F sharp minor Opus 50 and Mozart’s intensely lyrical G major K 387. As a point of clever programming this was it. In a number of basic ways these are two contrasting quartets by two contemporaries who much admired each other. However the economically and marvellously structured Haydn stood convincingly beside the skilfully crafted Mozart with its Jupiter Symphony-like fugue in the last movement.
Johannes Marmen, Ricky Gore, Bryony Gibson-Cornish and Steffan Morris are a formidable quartet. As part of their hectic schedule they successfully engaged, tutored and encouraged young string players in a Saturday morning workshop at the Centre for Young Musicians (an outreach centre for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama) at Richard Huish College in Taunton.
The Marmen Quartet were well received by each of their audiences on their Concerts in the West tour and I suspect that they are destined for yet more awards and even greater recognition.
• Reviewer Andrew Maddocks is the musical director and conductor of the Taunton based choir The Phoenix Singers and has recently become chairman and trustee of Concerts in the West. A professional music educator, Andrew founded the Bridgwater Young People’s Choir in 1983 and for a while conducted the Taunton Children’s Choir in the 1990s.