Concert at the Red Hedgehog, Highgate
Last Sunday the 8th of May, we played for the first time at the intimate North London chamber music venue – The Red Hedgehog. The Red Hedgehog is named after the 19th century coffee house ‘Zum Roten Igel’ – a favourite social venue for composers such as Brahms, Schubert and Mendelssohn. The recital we gave was the first ‘Coffee Concert’ in the venue with other ensembles appearing there over the next few weeks.
A ‘Coffee Concert’ usually takes place in late morning with coffee, cake, biscuits and sometimes sherry served during the interval. There are established series’ of coffee concerts at the Wigmore Hall and the Holywell Music Rooms in Oxford, but they are a recent addition to the calendar at the Red Hedgehog.
The programme was entitled ‘Beethoven and His Secretary’ and linked together the master composer with his one time secretary and copyist Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838). Ries was also a native of Bonn and premiered Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto as well as being a prolific composer in his own right (his later piano works anticipate the style of Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schumann). Despite the the fact that the high quality of his work meant that much of his music was published in his lifetime his fame has subsequently dwindled so it is with pleasure that we were able to play a wonderful piece by him.
In the first half of the concert we performed one of the most significant quartets ever written, Beethoven’s String Quartet in F major (Op. 18 No. 1). Although this was originally the second quartet of the six that he wrote, as the first published it sets out the future of the string quartet in it’s totally integrated and motivic writing. In the second half we played the sunny, inventive and often virtuosic String Quartet in G major (Op. 70 no. 2) by Ferdinand Ries. Despite it being influenced by various elements of Beethoven’s style it nevertheless has an identifiable voice of it’s own, taking the listener on a journey of often surprising twists and turns. One audience member I chatted with said that harmonically it seemed much more modern than the period it came from and there’s no doubt that Ries’s range was wide. It is a piece that charms and entices the listener on the very first hearing and was greatly enjoyed by the audience who had never heard it before.
By offering a theme that unites the well known with the unjustly forgotten people get to hear something completely new while being reassured by a work they are familiar with. Marry that to short announcements that give the audience a little background on the composers and have the provision of coffee, cake and sherry and you have an almost perfect morning’s entertainment!
The Manor House String Quartet at the Red Hedgehog. Violins: Vaughan Jones and Louise Bevan, Viola: Adrian Smith, ‘Cello: Julia Graham