Bath Festival – again

Piano accordions aren’t really my cup of tea and I hadn’t thought of them as a jazz instrument until we heard the Karen Street Quartet the other day. Street has worked with the Mike Westbrook Orchestra and released two CD albums. She is highly inventive, getting sounds from the accordion which were more like a clarinet than a keyboard instrument. She was brilliant, especially in a Duke Ellington number and then, finally, in a hymn tune – ‘When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old, He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold’ – which I remember from childhood. The Quartet featured Stan Sulzmann on tenor and bass saxophone, and was competed by electronic and acoustic guitars. It was all foot-tapping stuff and very enjoyable.

Joanna McGregor, Artistic Director of the Festival, introduced the fourth concert we attended. We had all been informed that the scheduled Borodin Quartet were unable to play – one of their members having injured his bowing arm in a ski accident – but the Jerusalem Quartet at very short notice would be performing a similar Shostakovich programme instead.

It’s the centenary year of the composer’s birth and concerts everywhere are highlighting the fact.

I had heard the young Jerusalem players before. They are enormously talented and are now performing around the world though still based in Tel Aviv. Daniel Barenboim loans Jacqueline Du Pre’s cello to the group, a fact which they acknowledge in their CV. Haydn’s sprightly’ Sunrise’ Quartet was played between the two Russian performances, as if to stress that the quartet has its origins in his elegant style and structural form.

The Shostakovich Quartets 11 and 6, abundantly full of the tunes that seem to flow seamlessly from his pen, even when expressing the despair and hopelessness which was part of his being and part of his creative genius.

The later quartet is a continuous series of seven movements, the earlier one characterised by a short, sad cadence that ends each of the four movements. The contrast with the Haydn was interesting, the Shostakovich felt like four soloists playing in groups or alone, whereas Haydn was more of a single entity. Following an enthusiastic ovation from the normally well behaved Bathians and their visitors, the Quartet encored with Samuel Barber’s Adagio. It was a notable evening.