Bishop’s Stortford Independent, Colin Smithers

Sunday’s music@stansted concert saw the Solem String Quartet deliver over two hours of some of the greatest string quartets from the Big German composers who first mastered the art.

Starting with Haydn’s ‘The Lark’, this young group immediately showed their mature ensemble playing of works that they have clearly strived to make their own.

While the concert was about the quartet in its archetypal staple form, the Solem, who are the quartet in residence at Liverpool University, play over a wide range including new commissions and a specialisation in performing the works of Bartok and Beethoven from memory. They are presently touring with a cult film, The Lobster Live, performing the soundtrack of parts of various quartets as live performances during showings of the film, to great acclaim.

The second work was Brahms’ A-minor quartet, the second of Opus 51 and one of only three that he wrote. The shadow of Beethoven’s genius meant this work was the result of endless revision and discarded prototypes.

The resulting lyrical masterpiece has long movements, giving Solem ample opportunity to create real atmosphere that held the audience until the final chord.

After an interval including mulled wine and shortbread, we returned to a single huge work, Beethoven’s Op 127 in E-flat, the first of his late quartets.

The Solem rose to the challenge, delivering a well-structured and perfectly voiced rendition, a real performance.

As Schubert said of these late quartets: “After this, what is there left for us to write?”

Carlisle Music Society, John Upson

The highly accomplished Solem String Quartet gave an impressive recital for Carlisle Music Society of three iconic works from the quartet repertoire.

Haydn’s ‘Lark’ Quartet opened the proceedings with finely judged balance between the four young players, excellent ensemble and natural musicianship. The expressive Adagio and rustic Menuetto brought both tonal elegance and humour; the moto perpetuo Finale raced by at a brisk tempo, with high spirits well controlled.

Second Violinist William Newell introduced Bartok’s Quartet no. 5 pointing to Bartok’s obsession with Eastern European folk music. Its earthy energy and desolate poignancy characterise much of this piece and the Solem Quartet rose to the occasion with a performance of confidence and insight into this unsettling music.

The fast outer movements were exhilarating, the players enjoyed the quirky rhythms of the central Scherzo Alla bulgarese and the two slow movements brought moments of stillness and reflection – a performance of high quality.

Beethoven’s Quartet in E flat op. 127 made the most satisfying conclusion to the concert – well-paced and sonorous. After two hundred years this music is at last widely appreciated – in no small measure due to the performances by young quartets such as the Solem Quartet.

Inverurie Music, A. Massey

Inverurie Music staged the classical component on Saturday of the In Tune weekend gigs with the Solem Quartet in the Acorn Centre.

Forming in 2011 in Manchester University, they took its name from the University’s motto, “arduus ad solem”, meaning “striving towards the sun.” Despite the lack of sunshine, the quartet clearly enjoyed playing in the generous acoustics of the Acorn Centre and confidently and clearly described the pieces that they played.

The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the Beethoven Quartet no 12 in E flat major, which was played with dedication and aplomb. The changes of tempo and mood were skilfully handled, at times putting the audience on the edge of their seats.

Such confidence was soon transformed into delight and the Quartet were brought back twice to the stage to hear their appreciative and warm applause.

The Yorkshire Times, Elaine Annable

Winner of the 2014 Royal Over-Seas League Ensemble Competition, the Solem Quartet was formed in 2011 at the University of Manchester.

Taking its name from the university’s motto “arduus ad solem”, meaning “striving towards the sun” the Solem Quartet’s first project was to play the Haydn Op. 20 “Sun” Quartets.

Since then the quartet has built an impressive CV which includes: the prestigious Chamber Studio Mentorship 2014/2015; ‘Quartet in Residence’ at the University of Liverpool since September 2016; ‘Ensemble in Residence’ at Aberystwyth MusicFest; a BBC Proms Extra broadcast and 2 CD recordings of 20th Century British Music.

Britten’s Three Divertimenti acted as the perfect aperitif: conceived as pieces of ‘pleasing entertainment’, each movement was short and sweet, with tons of character from start to finish.

One of the first pieces these musicians learnt as a quartet, their familiarity and ease with the music was clear: from the tight ensemble work to the sense of fun and enjoyment which was effortlessly communicated from the opening bars.

The second divertimento caught the mood immediately – elegant and restrained with a lovely swaying waltz rhythm and perfectly placed pizzicato.

The burlesque feel of the third, once again featuring delicate question and answer pizzicato, built gradually to a climax leaving the final notes echoing in the ether of St Wilfred’s Church.

Haydn’s Quartet no.64 in D major, op76, no.5 demonstrated one of the major advantages of performing in a church setting: the timbre of all the instruments was enhanced and in particular, the gorgeous, rich tone of the cello.

The slow movement largo was exquisite, its mood of vulnerability and hopefulness beautifully conveyed. Time appeared to stand still as every note was made to count. With wonderful attention to dynamics, crescendos were heavenly swells of sound and notes left hanging in mid-air created a magical ending to the movement.

The Presto finale was an exciting roller coaster ride which gave the impression of the quartet being right on the edge, when in fact, they were always in control.

It was with their final piece – Schumann’s String Quartet no. 3 in A major – that the Solem Quartet really came into their own.

Apart from demonstrating seamless question and answer interchange between instruments, it also showed their ability to switch quickly between changes of mood – from tumultuous, to calm and reflective.

Written after a bout of severe depression as a present for his wife, it reveals a more optimistic, romantic side to Schumann’s personality – although not without its moments of uncertainty.

More than anything, it was the Solem Quartet’s strong emotional connection to Schumann’s music which really shone through, and added an extra dimension to this performance.

The Solem Quartet is clearly committed to making classical music accessible to a younger generation and enjoys working with Live Music Now, giving concerts and workshops in special needs schools and care homes across the UK.

One of the most inspiring aspects of this event was the way in which the quartet easily held the attention of a group of children from a local primary school, and afterwards found time to chat and have photos taken with them.

On the evidence of this concert, I have no doubt that the future of classical music is safe in their hands. I’ll be following their career with interest.

Scunthorpe Concert Society, Clive Davies

Prolonged sunny intervals seemed guaranteed from the very first notes of Haydn’s Op 71 No 2 quartet as presented by the Solem String Quartet. These young and startlingly talented musicians came to the Scunthorpe and North Lincs Concert Society already feted with prizes, awards and plaudits. Formed only a few years ago – the Solem element in their name is derived from the University of Manchester’s motto “arduus ad solem”, striving towards the sun – their playing had a radiance and warmth that was all in keeping with notions of sunlight.

This Haydn D Major quartet was one of the significant waymarks on the journey as the string quartet came out of the closet, or out of the court chambers, and into the concert hall, and the Solem made light work of its brilliance and bravura.

Second Violin William Newell most obligingly marked our cards before the performance of the Bartok Quartet No 3, demonstrating to members of the audience who might have been “wary” of this Bartok masterwork how fragmented but pure melody and thunderous dance are embedded in this early 20th century classic. His “taster” introduction was much appreciated by his listeners, although no further commendation was needed once the music began.

The Solem addressed this Bartok – a piece so concise and compressed that it lasts barely a quarter of an hour – with heartfelt brio and winningly understated virtuosity. Bartok makes cruel fingering and bowing demands on his first violin especially, but Amy Tress led an inspired reading that illuminated the folkloric and dance imperatives of the score.

To judge from the murmurs of relish that spread through the audience at the Outwood Academy, Foxhills, Bela Bartok may have made a number of new friends as a result of the Solem’s assured exertions.

The concert concluded with Beethoven’s Op 59 No 3 quartet, the last of the small group dedicated to the arts patron and Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andrey Rasumovsky. In the same way that the Haydn quartet might be seen as a pioneering work, so this Beethoven disclosed the expansive symphonic colourings of a chamber work calculated to bring joy and a skipping lightness of being to its listeners.

Cellist Stephanie Tress and viola player Alistair Vennart had the chance to display their individual virtuosity in a performance that was personable, and brimming with accomplishment and cohesion.

Leaving Foxhills, it was raining, and strong winds sent autumn leaves skitttering and scattering across the drenched road surface – but looking more closely it became apparent that the leaves were not scattering but dancing.

Image credit: Marian Pearson