Gig Review:
The Martinů Quartet with Miroslav Sehnoutka, viola, & Nigel Cliffe, baritone

A Terezin Commemoration Concert, as part of Terezin Day at the Leamington Spa Festival
Holy Trinity Church, Beauchamp Ave., Leamington Spa, Thursday 6th May 2004, 7.30pm
Photo of The Martinu Qt. & Miroslav Sehnoutka
The Martinů Quartet with Miroslav Sehnoutka, viola, in rehearsal
(From L: Lubomír Havlák, Petr Matěják, Jitka Vlašánková, Miroslav Sehnoutka, Jan Jíša)
All photos this page by Richard A. Sharma and Copyright © Richard A. Sharma 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction, copying, or storage by any means whatsoever including but not limited to electronic/digital means without written prior permission prohibited. Linking to individual photographs on this page prohibited.

Warwick Arts
As Part of the Terezin Day at the Leamington Spa Festival

A Terezin Commemoration Concert feat.

The Martinů Quartet with Miroslav Sehnoutka, viola, and Nigel Cliffe, baritone

Holy Trinity Church, Beauchamp Ave., Leamington Spa,
Thursday 6th May 2004, 7.30pm

The Martinů Quartet :
Lubomír Havlák – violin
Petr Matěják – violin
Jan Jíša – viola
Jitka Vlašánková – cello

Miroslav Sehnoutka - viola

Nigel Cliffe - baritone

Programme includes:

Sylvie Bodorová - Terezín Ghetto Requiem for baritone and string quartet

Gustav Mahler - Zwei Rückert Lieder

Antonin Dvořák - String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 51
Viktor Ullmann - String Quartet No. 3

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Quintet for viola and string quartet, ???

Date of Review: 2004/05/16, major revision 2008/12/14 (due to loss of parts of original review)

With grateful thanks to Richard Phillips of Warwick Arts for all the arrangements and permissions.

A Terezin Commemoration

Photo of the Martinu Quartet
The Martinů Quartet in recital
(From L: Lubomír Havlák, Petr Matěják, Jan Jíša, Jitka Vlašánková

Regrettably, large parts of the original review of this event, along with notes relating to it, all integrated into a single word document, were irretrievably lost due to file corruption. Sadly, the paper notes concerning this recital were also lost. Worst affected by this is the actual programme, in which to the best of my memory either the Ullmann or the Dvorak string quartet of the published programme was replaced with one of the Mozart quintets for viola and string quartet. The only part of the review that remained intact in its entirety is the section dealing with Sylvie Bodorová's Terezín Ghetto Requiem, and fragments relating to the rehearsal and the overall performance were also salvaged. As some four and a half years after the event it is nearly impossible for me to recall any great detail, this revised and reconstructed review is, of necessity, rather brief. Corrections to any programmatic inaccuracies will be gladly made if any should come to my attention.

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Photo of Martinu Quartet with Miroslav Sehnoutka
The Martinu Quartet and Miroslav Sehnoutka in rehearsal
Photo of the Martinu Quartet & Miroslav Sehnoutka in recital
The Martinů Quartet with Miroslav Sehnoutka in recital

We had planned to arrive early at Holy Trinity Church to take in the rehearsal, and reached the gates of the church together with violist Jan Jíša of the acclaimed Martinů Quartet. It was a balmy spring afternoon, and inside the church the temperature hardly seemed any lower. The rehearsal atmosphere was relaxed and the Martinů Quartet, consisting of leader/first violin Lubomír Havlák, second violin Petr Matěják, violist Jan Jíša and cellist Jitka Vlašánková, and violist Miroslav Sehnoutka were a very relaxed and friendly bunch, and despite the harsh mixture of daylight and artificial light, both of which quite low in photographic terms, some good photographs were obtained. The music certainly was something rather special, and it was obvious that the performance was going to be an outstanding one, though with the reputation of both the Martinů Quartet and Miroslav Sehnoutka (both solo as well as with his own quartet, the Panocha Quartet) this was only to be expected. Previous exposure to some of their recordings had in fact led me to expect no less.

Equally acclaimed baritone Nigel Cliffe was unable to attend rehearsals as, if memory serves, he was to come straight from a prior afternoon performance. As all these musicians had performed together extensively before, including the material to be presented tonight, this was hardly going to be problematical.

Photo of cellist Jitka Vlašánková
The Martinů Quartet's cellist, Jitka Vlašánková,
in rehearsal
Photo of composer Sylvie Bodorová
Sylvie Bodorová, composer of the Terezín Ghetto Requiem, being applauded after the performance

Photo of baritone Nigel Cliffe
Baritone Nigel Cliffe

Photo of violist Miroslav Sehnoutka
Violist Miroslav Sehnoutka

Phot of the Martinu Quartet
In recital - the Martinů Quartet, from L: Lubomír Havlák, Petr Matěják,
Jan Jíša and Jitka Vlašánková

For the evening's performance, the little Holy Trinity Church was filled to very near capacity. The performances of the quartet and quintet were breathtaking, and the rich sonorities of the Martinů Quartet reminded of the finest quartets of the past and filled the hall. Mahler's Rückert Lieder, with the Martinů Quartet and Miroslav Sehnoutka now joined by the outstanding baritone Nigel Cliffe, were exquisitely interpreted.

However, the undoubted highlight of this recital was the Terezín Ghetto Requiem for baritone and string quartet by Sylvie Bodorová. This work was originally commissioned by the Warwick Festival in 1997 and written, like a number of other works by various composers, for Nigel Cliffe of the Royal Opera Covent Garden, and given its Leamington premiere here, with the composer in attendance. The Terezín Ghetto Requiem commemorates the Nazi holocaust and, specifically, the cynical Nazi "model camp" of Terezín or Theresienstadt, a monstruous propaganda exercise designed to appease and assure the rest of the world that concentration camps were of an almost holiday camp-like character and that nothing untoward happened there, when nothing could have been further from the truth.

Ms. Bodorová’s Terezín Ghetto Requiem consists of three movements, titled Lacrymosa, Dies irae and Libera me and lasts a little over a quarter of an hour. The opening movement quotes from both Christian and Jewish liturgy, specifically, Verdi's Requiem and the Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael. It makes use of widely-spaced harmonies to create an airy, delicate texture. Baritone Nigel Cliffe is blessed with an expressive, beefy voice that not only sings but also acts, and his interpretation was flawless. (His voice and characterful tone, rich expressiveness and intensity as well as sensitivity often reminded me of the great bass-baritone John Shirley-Quirk.)

By contrast, the Dies Irae text, the Latin mass for the dead, was given in a very forceful, even aggressive manner by Cliffe. Perfection itself. The tempo is almost vicious and the scoring demands the highest technical ability of the quartet. The Martinů Quartet met these demands with seeming ease. The final movement, Libera me, is gentle, and Nigel Cliffe's voice became somewhat hushed but carrying perfectly and intoning perfectly. The effect of Cliffe's subtly understated voice was quite shattering, especially so the desperation expressed in the repetitions of the word "domine". One could not help but feel a great chill coming up the spine and all over the back and neck.

Photo of Martinu Quartet & Nigel Cliffe
Lubomír Havlák, Jan Jíša and Petr Matěják of the Martinů Quartet with Nigel Cliffe taking applause

Nigel Cliffe and the Martinů Quartet gave a moving, stirring performance of Sylvie Bodorová's Terezín Ghetto Requiem, a haunting, even disturbing piece. And so it should be, to reflect the true horror of Terezin and the whole Nazi era. The performance was a resounding success.

As, indeed, was the entire recital. A thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying recital, upon which the performers, the Martinů Quartet, Miroslav Sehnoutka, and Nigel Cliffe must be equally thoroughly congratulated.

© 2004 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.

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