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Review: The Momenta Quartet, King’s Hall, Newcastle University

THE New York-based Momenta Quartet made the day for a group of music students from Newcastle and Durham universities on its North East debut at the opening of the ¡Vamos!

THE New York-based Momenta Quartet made the day for a group of music students from Newcastle and Durham universities on its North East debut at the opening of the ¡Vamos! festival, a 10-day celebration of Spanish and Portuguese speaking cultures.

The plan was to programme two student compositions after a workshop with Momenta, but the quartet and Newcastle University professor of composition Agustín Fernandez, who organised the event, decided all four pieces should be premiered on the night.

Helen Papaioannou was first up to introduce her string quartet, its post-minimalist play on repetitions subtly altered by slowly shifting rhythmic emphasis, creating an engaging forward motion.

Matthew Rowan’s Images of Silence took a bolder, more dissonant approach while Tom Albans achieved an impressive unity in the nine contrasting miniature movements of his quartet.

But the most flamboyant piece came from Eric Egan whose inventiveness and wit shone through novel bowing effects and surprise twists and turns of character.

Venezuelan composer Manena Contreras wrote Instantes while working with the Momenta Quartet at Temple University, Philadelphia, its five-movement form journeying from festive Latin dance rhythms to a darker, more dramatic core and back again in a stylishly crafted piece.

Although played last, Agustín Fernandez’s String Quartet No. 1, Montes, was the centrepiece of the programme. A tribute to his friend and Bolivian compatriot, the painter Fernando Montes, who died last year, the three-movement piece takes its inspiration from three of Montes’ paintings of Andean people and the ancient architecture of the region.

Agustín describes Montes’ work as having “a very personal approach characterised by subtle introspection and simplicity”.

The music captures the strongly delineated forms and satisfying earthy hues of the paintings superbly. The opening movement, City of Silence, calls up the stark loneliness of abandoned structures while the Gate of the Moon is an especially powerful evocation of a monolithic arch “where a silver light radiates from the centre…” Music and Land reflects the character and rhythms of Andean pipes and percussion.

The ¡Vamos! festival continues until Sunday. Details and tickets from Northern Stage. Tel (0191) 230-5151 or visit www.vamosfestival.com

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