Navarra Quartet & Tom Poster

By Peter Reynolds

Even if Carl Nielsen didn’t quite invent Danish music, he put Denmark on the musical map. This year marks the 150th anniversary of his birth and this year’s Presteigne Festival featured his music. And it was with Nielsen’s Fourth String Quartet that the Navarra Quartet opened their concert in St Andrew’s Church, Presteigne.

We are currently living through something of a golden age for young emerging British string quartets and the Navarra Quartet are one of Britain’s leaders in this field. The Fourth Quartet, composed in 1906, is not one of Nielsen’s best-known works, but the Navarras made a compelling argument for it: serene, quirky, bucolic and energetic by turns. Why don’t we hear it more often?

The highlight of the evening was the premiere of the Second String Quartet by Joseph Phibbs – a regularly featured composer at the festival. Phibbs composed his First Quartet last year at the age of 40 and the old 250-year-old medium of the quartet has clearly gripped his imagination. His new quartet caused quite a sensation with the audience. From the delicate lightness of its opening, the music ranged through a dream-like fantasy world, moving from fragile glass-like textures one moment, through to furious storm-like episodes, evaporating as quickly as they arose.

Presteigne is a festival predominantly devoted to today’s music and this often seems to bring a heightened response from performers to the classics of the past. The Navarra Quartet were joined by pianist Tom Poster for Dvorák’s Piano Quintet. All five performers were positively on fire for this imperishable romantic chamber work, playing with a passionate sweep that carried the audience along with them. A great evening.