You Review: Revolutionary Drawing Room

Reader Lewis Wolstanholme rates period performance at St John’s Smith Square in London

You Review: Revolutionary Drawing Room

The Revolutionary Drawing Room (pictured above) is a particularly interesting quartet that specialises in period instrument performance. During their recent concert at St John’s Smith Square there were bow changes between pieces and plenty of unstable gut strings in need of frequent tuning – all of this added to an atmosphere that contrasted greatly to what you tend to expect from ‘modern’ performance.

The Haydn Op.20/1 quartet suited the sound perfectly. The refined delicacy of Haydn’s style was sonorous due to the far more intimate timbre of these instruments. The balance of the players was well defined with internal duets and solo melody lines clearly articulated with effortless ornaments and divine feminine cadences punctuating this music’s finesse. The only attribute that was questionable occurred during the Minuetto movement, where the phrases seemed disjointed and because of this, all sense of pace was lost.

The two Beethoven quartets performed, Op.74 and Op.95, had a different relationship with the period sound. The Op.95 in F Minor opens with chaotic phrases alternating with soft ones. With a modern sounding instrument the ferocity of Beethoven’s sound is full and textured without too much force, but with the period instruments it felt weak and too tame. Period instruments tend to have a thinner sound anyway, but the large size of this hall wouldn’t have done them any favours. Other than moments where a lack of vibrato made the quieter chordal moments sound slightly off pitch, this quartet was still very well performed. Later on, in Op.74, the distinctions of this sound world really became clear. The angst and serene of Beethoven were now well-balanced and again internal melodic lines sung freely within the texture.

Period instruments have an enchanting sound, and when played as well as by this quartet, it’s a real treat to the ear.

– Lewis Wolstanholme, London



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