It was a shock to the music community of Cardiff when composer and teacher Peter Reynolds passed away back in 2016. Though the prospect of getting to hear his final pieces has been of interest to me, his extensive back catalogue is also something to discover.
In his Second String Quartet, entitled ‘Footsteps Quiet in the Shadows’, the poetry of Francesca Kay is the ground work of the piece. Bach is another influence, with an odd set of two chords from his 3rd Brandenburg Concerto between two movements, expanded heavily in the second movement here. The piece is still and airy, filled with pregnant pauses, creepy and with a knowing sense of atmosphere. The players seem to rarely play at all, though themes from earlier on come back to haunt us. This held up as a fascinating case study of a composition from a composer’s last offerings.
Dvořák’s ‘American’ String Quartet Number 12, was the meat of this afternoon concert, which never ceases to be a treasure. Inspired by his time stateside, the Czech composers absorbed massive quantities of the pre-jazz era of the US, incorporating slave spirituals and Native American dances into his work. We all know this better with his New Word Symphony (his 9th), his final venture into the medium with sprawling, wild west scapes and the famous Largo for cor anglais. Here is a more intimate affair with some more rollicking melodies and a flutter of birdsong (birds sang outside his window in Illinois it seems). It’s a more subtle affair because of this, yet it never ceases in its charm, proven by its popular place in chamber music circles. If you aren’t thinking of Death Valley and cowboy boots, you have simply missed the point.
The Mavron are a Cardiff staple in the music scene. It’s a joy to see an all female group of musicians make wonderful music and help with accessibility and diversity within classical world, something which is also close to my heart. Their playing is always focused with an attentive eye, with the instruments made to ring out when needed and whisper in other moments. How soon can we hear then next?