The evening of the last day of March was a dank, dreary time – far too much rain and darkening too early. Once inside Prestfelde School’s Blackburn Theatre, however, the mood lifted as soon as the Mēla Guitar Quartet took to the stage. These four young, hugely talented musicians held their audience spellbound with a wide ranging programme, much of which was of music arranged for their ensemble rather than written for a guitar quartet. The four acoustic instruments they play were all hand-made by the same luthier; they all produced an exquisite sound.
Their repertoire is wide ranging; a contemporary composer and fellow guitarist, Laura Snowden, had written “My clock is broken!” for the Quartet; it’s an amazing piece, well able to exploit just about every possible sound that a guitar can produce and ranges emotionally from despondency to love. Earlier we had heard a Bach organ fugue, BWV 578, which like many of JSB’s compositions can be played by several solo instruments or groups. It was simply sublime.
The concert opened with the Bacchanale from “Samson and Delilah” by Saint-Saens who, in his long life was branded as a revolutionary in his youth but regarded as a reactionary in his old age! His orchestrations were always vivid, full of vitality and rhythmic energy and made use of the widest possible palette of orchestral colours. All these qualities were in abundance in the Quartet’s playing – it was a source of delight and amazement that four guitars could take on the role of a symphony orchestra and be totally convincing. Their total awareness of each other, their careful use of dynamics and wonderful emotional insights into each work were attributes in evidence throughout the concert.
In a very fine season organised by Shropshire Music Trust, this must rank as a standout event and thanks are due to the four guitarists, Matthew Robinson, George Tarlton, Daniel Bovey and Jiva Housden; as well as being fine musicians they are superb communicators about the music they love; the audience felt warmly embraced by this wonderful evening.