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Quartetto di Cremona bring musical magic to Scotland

I have a terrific piece of news this week for lovers of chamber music.

Let's start from a step or two back. Over the past few years I have followed the progress on CD of an Italian string quartet called the Quartetto di Cremona, which is engaged on a long-range project to record all of Beethoven's string quartets on the splendid German label Audite, distributed in the UK by Harmonia Mundi. That project has just reached Volume 3, which was released on June 2, and reviewed in advance of that in the Sunday Herald's album slot on May 18.

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I have been raving about this group since they started the project. They are very special and have a particular sound and attack in their performance, which I might call Mediterranean: it's big, open, bright, a touch earthy, lacking nothing in subtlety, but with a confident virility in its projection. As I've remarked in my reviews of the discs, the Quartetto di Cremona sound for all the world as though they have inherited the the mantle of the Quartetto Italiano, long gone now, but one of the greatest string quartets of the 20th century. This writer learned his Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Debussy and Ravel string quartets from many sources, but ultimately with the Quartetto Italiano's versions as the preferred permanent choice.

And as I said in my review of the latest Quartetto di Cremona volume a few weeks back, their performances confirm them for me as the true successors to that earlier great Italian string quartet, and a bunch of musical magicians in their own right. I've listened to Volume 3 many times now and remain as gripped by their playing as I was on day one, when I impatiently ripped through the cellophane to get the disc out and into my little portable player (the one for solitary listening: no loudspeakers, no sharing, no intruding - private listening only).

So what's the "terrific piece of news"? Well, the Quartetto di Cremona is coming to the UK for a two-week tour in October this year, and four of their engagements will be in Scotland.

The tour will run from October 3 to 17, and at the heart of their repertoire, and going almost everywhere, will be Beethoven's mighty seven-section epic, the late String Quartet in C sharp minor, opus 131.

Otherwise, they are bringing a choice of Shostakovich Quartets, between numbers 3, 10 and 13 (I can just imagine the big Cremona sound in Shostakovich). They're also bringing a tasty Italian selection of string quartets by Boccherini, Puccini and Verdi, and different venues will make their personal selections (some of which are still to be finalised, as are one or two venues and concert times).

The venues range widely, from formal concert halls, including Perth Concert Hall and London's Wigmore Hall, to more intimate village halls and parish churches. The group is plugging into the UK's vast network of music clubs and music societies: in Scotland alone, there are over 70 well-established music clubs/societies, some over 50 years old and one very famous club, Milngavie Music Club (MMC), more than 70 years old.

In Scotland, the Quartetto di Cremona will kick off the tour on October 3 for Kelso Music Society, at the town's Old Parish Church. On the October 6 they hit Perth Concert Hall where, as it is a Monday, it will be a lunchtime concert. The following day they're off to the Brunton in Musselburgh. On October 9 they nip down to Morpeth, returning to Scotland on October 10 to launch Milngavie Music Club's seven-concert winter season.

Interestingly, where some of the clubs and societies are still refining details of times, venues or programmes, the veteran and hugely experienced MMC, as it is known, have their Cremona concert, and entire season, already set in stone in a printed brochure, and out there: Cairns Church, Milngavie, Friday October 10, 7.30pm. Then the group heads south to Norfolk and Norwich, London, Cheltenham and Halifax. They're fantastic on disc. Now here they come, live. Can't wait for autumn.

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