Heart Variations for String Quartet

St Georges Hall
10th April 2014

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

In the prestigious surroundings of St George's Hall Concert Room what sounded like a complicated enterprise was ultimately very easy on the ear. The concert consisted of music developed from actual electrocardiograms and feedback from people reflecting on five stages in their lives: the Heart Variations of the title.

Each piece was in five movements representing in sequence, over-consumption, self-alienation, awareness, hope and love and were played out in each half by the recently formed Liverpool String Quartet. Mieke Holzman's 2012 composition came before the interval and Ian Stephens' new 2014 rendering after it.

Impeccable playing by Rakhi Singh (1st Violin), Sarah Hall (2nd Violin), Daniel Sanxis (viola) and Nick Byrne (cello) effortlessly carried the sentiments embodied in the musical sections, which had subtle cultural variations in their contents.

For German born Holzmann's over-consumption, the Western malaise evoked bloated fin de siercle Prussia heading for a heart attack, while Stephens' comparison was evocative of a runaway John Adams' Fast Train, drunk on its own pulse rate busting collision course. self-alienation, was no laughing matter for the German, depressive and with a Bartokian intensity; the English equivalent being a sort of Vaughn Williams 'Lark' descending.

Next awareness, a time for reflection was spare and evoked Beethoven at his slowest before the break and Elgar riding his bicycle over the Malvern Hills after it. Hope was accompanied by soaring high notes and the knowledge that there was still life in the old dog yet, for Holzmann a Straussian reminiscence, full of the joys of being alive; Stephens' take began with a soulful cello in the wilderness before the lead violin heralded in a life affirming folk music flourish, increasingly heartwarming.

The last movement love, although Holzmann's, could have been Mozart's - happy compensating music, perhaps a little bit too sweet. The English complement was all Cotswold yellow brick cottages and Michael Parkinson selling life insurance, a movement nearly loved to death by slow asphyxiation. Fascinating stuff.

Local outreach work in schools and the health community in the North West had made this touring project a going concern. The organisers and sponsors have missed a beat though in not attracting a more diverse and bigger audience on this first night. The evening ended with short pieces from rising stars in the areas music schools, St John Bosco College providing the locally produced piece tonight. If the intention was to engage parts of the community not normally reached by classical music then tonight was a blip in the proceedings.

Good luck though to this interesting project.


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Sorry Comments Closed

Comment left by Bob Taylor on 4th May, 2014 at 10:35
Any chance of non-Liverpudlians hearing this? When's the CD coming out?

Comment left by Egle on 13th July, 2014 at 7:22
"The organisers and sponsors have missed a beat though in not attracting a more diverse and bigger audience" I know that organizers did their best. They invested so much time and efforts into this project and especially into workshops with schools, that I would rather raise a different question. Why was media and press so apathetic and unfriendly with this project? I will never understand. All I can say, such a hard work, but the doors were shut. Very frustrating indeed.

Comment left by Egle on 13th July, 2014 at 7:27
Btw after long work with St John Bosco College, they decided they don't have time to continue with the final compositions. So on the evening you heard the works of the students from Fleetwood, St Helens, Burnley and Preston. Anybody who's interested in purchasing our CD, please contact egle@heartvariations.co.uk