The Sharpenhurst Quartet, St John’s Church, Broadbridge Heath.
One of classical music’s most famous names was given a belated birthday celebration last week.
On 18th September, at St John’s Church in Broadbridge Heath, the Sharpenhurst Quartet gave a superb performance of some of Ludwig van Beethoven’s music for string quartet. This concert had originally been planned for last year, to mark the 250th anniversary of the great composer’s birth in 1770. But live performances have been almost impossible over the last 18 months, and this performance had to be delayed until restrictions were eased. After such a long wait, it was thrilling to hear this music live at last.
The Sharpenhurst Quartet (Rachel Ellis, Anna Giddey, Emily Frith and Rhian Isaacson) was formed in 2019 specially to celebrate the Horsham Year of Culture with the Horsham Music Circle, and is named after the hill overlooking Christ’s Hospital, where the members teach.
The first work in the programme was Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.59 No.1. This is one of three quartets dedicated to Count Andreas Razumovsky, who was the Russian ambassador in Vienna. It was composed in 1808, at a time when Beethoven was struggling to come to terms with his increasing deafness. It is a complex work in four movements, lasting over forty minutes, full of Beethoven’s characteristic fiery energy, but also containing moments of achingly sad beauty and blissful serenity. This music is technically difficult, physically demanding and emotionally draining for the musicians; but the Sharpenhurst Quartet rose to the challenge, and produced a performance that was polished and accomplished. There were moments of sheer joy when the four players were perfectly attuned to each other and the quartet became a single instrument.
The concert ended with the third movement from the String Quartet Op.135 No.16. This was the final string quartet that Beethoven wrote, and indeed the last major work he composed before he died in 1827. His ‘late’ quartets are famously difficult, both for the players and for the audience. This movement seems formless, almost like an improvisation; at times it is desperately sad, and there are passages where you can easily imagine the composer struggling to catch his breath, perhaps sensing that the end is near. The Sharpenhurst Quartet invested their performance with a depth of emotion that went beyond mere technical ability. At the end there was a long moment of awed quiet before the spellbound audience broke into enthusiastic applause.
It is great to hear live music again after such a long wait, and we are fortunate to have such gifted players among us who can bring these rarely-heard masterpieces to life.