Review: Coull string Quartet and Mark Bebbington, at The Artrix, Bromsgrove
It isn’t only football that’s allowed to be a game of two halves. It can apply to concerts as well, and last Friday at Bromsgrove Concerts was certainly a case in point.
The second half was totally wonderful, but before we reached it we had to sit through a decidedly misconceived sequence of string quartet offerings in a first half which lasted a full hour (leading to the event not finishing until nearly 10.30pm after an 8 o’clock start).
‘Three Divertiment’ by the 20-year-old Britten needed more characterisation and sophisticated slickness than the Coull Quartet was able to provide here, and to follow this wan account with a selection from Edward Cowie’s ‘Birdsong Bagatelles’ only prolonged the search for genuine personality.
Cowie’s is an interesting idea, to create avian sound-pictures of habitat and behaviour (very little actual birdsong), accompanied by ‘Country Diary-like’ back-projections painted by the composer himself. But the result seems almost random, improvisatory, Cowie’s gestures never gelling into memorable point-making, and the visuals hard to decipher. Touchingly, at the bottom of each picture he actually names the key of each miniature -- a bold statement for a contemporary composer.
And these two offerings unfortunately sapped the concentration for a work which was certainly worthy of it, the Seventh Quartet of Robert Simpson. This is a composition of sustained Beethovenian growth from tiny cells easily identifiable in the memory, and its manipulation of texture reminds one also of that great Beethoven admirer, Tippett. The Coulls gave it with huge commitment, but I guess there was more than one listener aurally exhausted by this time.