It is encouraging to see almost-full attendance at a contemporary music recital. The audience tonight consisted of not just music professionals (who may be more inclined to be open to unfamiliar or directly disagreeable music), but also general music enthusiasts (judging by some of the comments I overheard during the interval). It must surely be the reputation of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, devoted entirely to fine performances of contemporary music, as well as the variety of music contained therein, that draws such crowds to it's relatively short stretch of performances. Indeed, as I write this, the festival is already over.

Quatour Tana © Nicolas Draps
Quatour Tana
© Nicolas Draps

For me, the most exciting of the works presented by Quatuor Tana this evening was the première of Yann Robin's Second Quartet, Crescent Scratches. As explained by Robin, the quartet is founded on the idea of pulsating glissandi and 'scratching' as used on a DJ turntable. A variety of bowings was devised in order to create these sounds. Antoine Masonhaute, the first violinist, also warned that it might be 'offensive' to listen to, at which a lot of the audiences' interest was noticeably piqued. The Quartet was, indeed, gratifyingly provocative, with incisive and penetrating harmonics permeating the movement. An exploration of textures and timbres that can be produced by the quartet, there were moments of concentrated grating, contrasted with sustained harmonics punctuated with smaller 'scratches'. Indeed, as Masonhaute commented, the Quartet is less about definite pitch and more about harmonics and overtones.

Robin's Quartet was well complimented by the première of Daniel D'Adamo's own second Quartet later in the evening, a somewhat more pointillistic work drawing contrasts between unified sounds, gestures, and opposing timbres at the fore. Again, texture and timbre seemed to be the underlying focus. The other two, more tonally-minded of the Quartets presented this evening were charming. Gabriel Jackson's Llanandras Melodies from 2007 is a wonderfully meandering sequence of imaginary folk tunes. There was a strong English Renaissance feel throughout. This was again complemented by John Metcalf's Paths of Song from 2010. A most sincere and direct composition throughout, it is in a single movement divided into five fleeting sections.

The concluding work, Tavener's The Last Sleep of the Virgin seemed to acknowledge the evocative visual effect of the ancient setting, Ewenny Priory. The performers are directed to play 'at the threshold of audibility' and both the Quartet and Nick Baron, on handbells, executed the work with barely-perceivable shifts and entries. The handbells played a kind of textural role, penetrating the (almost imperceptible) attack of the sustained strings. In the dichotomy between separateness and togetherness explored by all of the works tonight, this concluding work was executed with complete unification by all. A fine performance.

****1