Burgess Centenary Review

We are very grateful and bowled over by Mark Houghon’s review of our Burgess concert below:

“Concert Review: The Mēla Guitar Quartet; Burgess Centenary Concert, The Engine House, Manchester, 7.30pm, February 17th 2017.
The Mēla Guitar Quartet, comprised of Matthew Robinson, George Tarlton, Daniel Bovey, and Jiva Housden (who first met as students of the Guildhall/Junior Guildhall School of Music and Drama), performed to a generous-sized audience at the Engine House in Manchester City Centre on Friday 17th February to mark the Centenary of the birth of the English author/ composer, Anthony Burgess (1917 –1993). Commencing with their own arrangement of the well-known g minor organ fugue BWV578, by J.S. Bach, the quartet demonstrated clear singing voice leading and an impressive dynamic range, leaving the audience in no doubt, from the outset, that this talented group of musicians are a well-drilled ensemble. Next came offerings from two English composers, a quartet (1986) written by Anthony Burgess and two works, ‘Intermezzo’ (1987) and ‘Change-Ringers’ (1996) by the evergreen Stephen Dodgson. In these works, I feel this quartet demonstrated a higher understanding of the subtle Impressionistic underpinnings of the Burgess piece (a homage to Maurice Ravel) while championing the Dodgson works that followed. These were benchmark performances by the four guys. The Burgess piece is a truly integrated work, concertante-style, as befitting the best quartet writing. The piece revealed elements of Frederic Delius (a pupil of Ravel) in harmonic language and it will surely become a standard repertoire item. Dodgson’s ‘Intermezzo’ sets a memorable folk-like melody over shifting chord substitutions – a harmonic style founded on the influence of 19thC Czech music on the composer. The Mēla Quartet have the world premiere performance recording of this piece to their credit. Dodgson’s ‘Change-Ringers’ (also recorded by the quartet) is an interesting and inspired work exploring the Campanology tradition of ringing tuned bells to produce sound order variations. This was one of the highlights of the evening for me, as the Mēla Guitar Quartet worked their magic on this piece. Their attention to fine dynamic balance and detail in this work was impressive. A signature quartet arrangement by this resourceful ensemble came next; Cesar Franck’s organ work, Prelude, Fugue and Variation (op.18), written in 1862. Another wonderful counterpoint work executed with sensitivity and beauty of tone from their four Michael Gee guitars. The first half concluded with a pyrotechnic work by Bryan Johanson, a homage to Jimi Hendrix entitled ‘Pluck, Strum and Hammer’. This busy facile piece, with it’s humorous ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ quotation (Hendrix was a Georg Frederick Handel admirer) saw out the first half of the concert in an exciting fashion. The 2nd half commenced with a 2014 work by the well-known Australian guitarist/ composer, Philip Houghton (b. 1954); his three-movement work, ‘Opals’. Here again the quartet were committed in bringing the best out of this composition with an ever-changing soundscape reflecting the characteristics of the three opals being described. This music coaxed a variety of colours and textures from these able musicians. Back to Anthony Burgess for the next set of three realisations of Irish melodies, showing Burgess’ wide reading of English string quartet repertoire by mimicking a similar set of three Idyll’s by Frank Bridge. These delightful miniatures will, I hope, be accepted widely for the quality of the writing on show. The performance showed a humorous and playful side to these pieces. Much to the credit of this ensemble, their ability to unite as a single unit in presenting phrases allows the listener to purely focus on the music. A work entitled Dance by P. Thomas came next and was a feast of strumming technique. The guitars held up well to this tour de force which was intelligently programmed in front of the next piece; the beautifully lyrical ‘Agua y Vinho’ by Egberto Gismonti. Again, the delicate dynamic balance and
arced phrasing of ensemble here to present this piece so musically is a special trait I’m coming to expect from the Mēla performances. The final piece by the guitarist composer Sergio Assad entitled ‘Uarekena’ is mixture of facile diminished 7th passages punctuated by sublime dominant 11th’s and whole tone flourishes sounding decidedly French in influence. It is a real technical finale for any quartet program and here the guys where more than up to the challenge producing a brilliant sound wall to finish off. A single virtuosic and flawless encore of Rimsky Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’ capped off a memorable concert in Manchester. The UK has a fine tradition of producing high quality guitar quartets. The rich guitar quartet repertoire is in the safest of hands with the Mēla Guitar Quartet for many years to come.
Mark Houghton, Feb 2017”



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