Reviews of String Quartet No.4
Sorrel Quartet, Wigmore Hall
London 19 JUNE 1998
“The high point of this Sorrel Quartet concert was a new work by John Pickard, who at 36 is quietly establishing himself as one of Britain’s most consistently reliable young composers. The new quartet, Pickard’s Fourth, finished earlier this year, was presented in a listener-friendly sandwich of Haydn’s ‘Joke’ Quartet and Smetana s First, ‘From my Life’ […]
Pickard’s work is a tour de force of quartet writing, music of visceral excitement. The structure of each of the three movements alludes to the Baroque. The first, entitled Sinfonia, is a slow introduction in solemn chords that are soon swept out of the way in a welter of contrapuntal activity. Pickard has fun in the middle movement, Concerti: second violin, viola and cello are each given a brief solo spot, which the first fiddle tries to interrupt with excited malevolence before it finally reaches centre-stage itself; with which the music simply disintegrates.
The third movement, a Fantasia of four parts, acknowledges the great Tudor tradition of string fantasias, not by quotation but by its slowly evolving chain of tempos. The music expands from its stately opening to a pronounced shift up gear, when a furiously energetic passage of exhilarating counterpoint sends it hurtling forwards. A brief pause for breath, a final rush at the castle walls, and the frenzy is spent.
The performance was one of blistering passion: quartet textures as busy as these must be murder to master but the Sorrels brought to them both knife-edge technical precision and a palpable commitment to the music. This was the kind of first performance that composers dream about, and it left the roaring audience in no doubt they had sat in at the birth of one of the best pieces of British chamber music to be heard for years.”
Sorrel String Quartet, Wigmore Hall,
“[The Sorrel’s] ensemble was at its most exciting in John Pickard’s String Quartet No.4 of which this was the world premiere. They played its still, trilling opening like sky divers teetering on the brink. The second movement’s classical conceits met contemporary resolutions as the joker raised his head again [the concert opened with Haydn’s Joke Quartet Op.33 No.2].
The finale assumed a life of its own, growing from lento to presto with unanimous, brilliant articulation. Pickard is a man to watch. The Sorrel is a quartet to hear.”
Spokane Quartet, Crosby Theater, Spokane (U.S. Première)
The Spokesman-Review, April 15, 2007
“Pickard’s String Quartet No. 4, written in 1998 but just now having its American premiere, was Sunday’s main attraction. Pickard, in his genially witty verbal introduction, claimed that he is “generally puritanical” in his approach to quartet writing. That is, no gimmicks. Well, almost no gimmicks.
Each of the work’s three movements is patterned after a baroque musical form: the first, a sinfonia or overture; the second, four miniature concertos; and the finale, a four-part fantasia. Pickard’s musical language proved quite modern with plenty of biting dissonance and rhythmic tricks but no “special effects” such as playing with the wood of the bow, or whistling bowing by playing near the instrument’s bridge.
Pickard plays with building tension through accumulating dissonance or rhythmic energy, then releasing it with a shift to a quiet section or the use of all the instruments playing in unison. The finale, for example, began very slowly, gradually snowballing to an avalanche of notes pulled up short by a unison passage before speeding to its climax. Sounds simple, but its effect was startling.
The gimmick? The middle movement featured short concerto like passages for each instrument, first Wee-Yang, then Bland, then Byrne. The first violin (Arksey) is always butting in until she gets her turn to solo and the other gang up. The conclusion is a pathetic but very funny whimper.
This is a very difficult piece, but the Spokane Quartet met its challenge beautifully.
If you did not hear this concert, or even if you did, you have another chance to hear Pickard’s strange and marvelous quartet. He and members of the Spokane Quartet will appear at a lecture recital at Whitworth College today. The Spokane String Quartet will perform his String Quartet No.4 and the composer will discuss the work.”