Ensemble 360

Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield
Monday 16 May 2022, 7.15pm

Tickets: £20
£14 Disabled & Unemployed
£5 Students & Under 35s

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Ensemble 360 String Quartet

PURCELL Chacony in G minor (5’)
GRIME String Quartet No.1 (15’)
PURCELL Fantasia No.6 in F (4’)
PURCELL Fantasia in C minor (4’)
BRITTEN String Quartet No.2 (30’)

Through an exploration of over five centuries of music, this concert celebrates the infinite possibilities of the string quartet. Highlights include Helen Grime’s theatrical work with three interlocking movements that ebb and flow, pulsing with life and infused with deep feeling. Purcell’s stately Fantasia is full of intricate invention and harmony, seemingly infused with light. The evening concludes with an epic quartet from one of the most original and enduring composers of the 20th century, Benjamin Britten.

Please note the change to the previously advertised programme for this concert.
We apologise for any disappointment this may cause.

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival runs 13–21 May 2022

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PURCELL Henry, arr. BRITTEN Chacony in G minor, Z730 

Purcell composed this Chacony in about 1680, probably to be played by the Twenty-Four Violins, the string orchestra established by Charles II (imitating the similar ensemble set up by Louis XIV at Versailles). Its purpose was likely to have been to accompany dancing at court or perhaps as incidental music for a play. Britten was a fervent admirer of Purcell’s music and he began this arrangement for string quartet or string orchestra in late 1947, conducting the first performance in Zurich on 30 January 1948. In 1963, he made some revisions and the score was published in 1965. In the preface to that edition, Britten wrote the following about the work: ‘The theme, first of all in the basses, moves in a stately fashion from a high to a low G. It is repeated many times in the bass with varying textures above. It then starts moving around the orchestra. There is a quaver version with heavy chords above it, which provides the material for several repetitions. There are some free and modulating versions of it, and a connecting passage leads to a forceful and rhythmic statement in G minor. The conclusion of the piece is a pathetic variation, with dropping semi-quavers and repeated “soft” – Purcell’s own instruction.’ 

Nigel Simeone, 2022 

GRIME Helen, String Quartet No.1

When I was approached to write a piece for the Edinburgh Quartet I was delighted – I had wanted to write a string quartet for quite some time and was waiting for the right time and opportunity to do so. The string quartet has one of the richest repertoires and histories behind it, so for me, one of the main challenges was letting go of all those associations and approaching it like I would for any other combination. I am not a string player, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Although I’m constantly thinking of the technical challenges and making the music playable, not actually being able to play can be freeing, leading you to take musical risks that you might not take otherwise. I came to the string quartet after writing a lot of chamber music for strings, including two piano trios (a combination which I found equally daunting) and a string sextet.

This is the first piece I have completed since having my son, Samuel, last August. This has been an emotionally rich and creative time for me and although I started the piece (about a minute or so) when pregnant, most has been written this year. I’m unsure if this has affected the piece or not, but interestingly the form of the piece (which was quite carefully planned beforehand) underwent quite a huge change when I began composing again.

The piece is in three movements, but they all run together without a break, the material of the new movement overlapping with the end of the previous one. My music tends to be very organic generally and this is very much true of the quartet. The speeds of each movement are very closely related to create seamless links between ideas and there are also very strong links between the musical material in each movement. To some extent, I imagined the piece in one long movement and I think this will come over to the listener.

The first movement opens with a fast duo for violin II and viola – different pairings are a feature of the piece in general – and ends with a duo for violin I and cello. The second movement is by far the longest of the three and the third movement is a sort of moto perpetuo, featuring virtuoso writing for each instrument.

© Helen Grime

PURCELL Henry, Fantasias

Purcell’s fifteen Fantasias, originally written for viols in 3, 4, 6 and 7 parts, were probably all composed in 1680. The style of this music – imitating the vocal motet – comes from a tradition of instrumental fantasia-writing that goes back to the Renaissance. Yet despite the self-imposed restrictions of the genre, and its apparent anachronism, Purcell reinvents this form with music of extraordinary beauty and expressiveness. The Fantasias in this evening’s concert were all written for four voices, emphasizing the link between these concise and concentrated masterpieces and the emergence of the string quartet in the next century.

Nigel Simeone 2013

BRITTEN Benjamin, String Quartet No. 2, Op. 36

Allegro calmo, senza rigore
Chacony: sostenuto 

Britten composed his String Quartet No. 2 in September and October 1945 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Purcell’s death. It was given its premiere by the Zorian Quartet at the Wigmore Hall on 21 November 1945 in one of a pair of concerts  where music by Purcell was performed alongside two new works by Britten (this quartet and the Holy Sonnets of John Donne, first performed the following evening). Though the first movement is, broadly, in sonata form, as Michael Kennedy has pointed out, ‘there seems to be more of the free fantasia about it than adherence to classical precepts.’ The opening presents three ideas, all based on the wide interval of a 10th, and what follows is an almost continuous development of these ideas, until, at last, C major is established in the coda. The second movement is a strange and rather disturbing Scherzo, the strings muted throughout. The Chacony (its title a clear homage to Purcell) is much the longest of the three movements. A grandly-conceived set of variations (interspersed with solo cadenzas), it reaches a triumphant climax with repeated C major chords.  

© Nigel Simeone, 2022