BUTE Arts Society's first concert of 2011 saw the Fejes Quartet perform three very different works at Rothesay Joint Campus this week.
The quartet comprises Tamas Fejes and Elita Bungard on violin, Mike Lloyd on viola and Rachel Lee on cello. All played instruments with fascinating stories to tell, with Tamas's violin having been made in Paris in the mid-19th century and Rachel's cello in Prague in 1764 - making it just eight years younger than the composer of the concert's first piece, the Quartet in D minor by Mozart.
This was introduced by Mike Lloyd - whose viola was by far the youngest of the four instruments, having been made in 1991 and named 'Sir Geoffrey Howe' by its creator - as the first of three "monumental works" on the programme.
Mozart, Mike said, wrote six string quartets in his lifetime, dedicating them all to Joseph Haydn - who, on hearing them, told Mozart's father that "your son is the greatest composer known to me, either in person or by name".
The second piece of the night was a very different kettle of fish, being the third of six string quartets written by the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (1881-1945). It was written in 1927, and came with a health warning from Bartok's fellow Hungarian Tamas for its dissonant sounds and clashes between instruments.
And though it certainly wasn't an easy listen - and must have been a devil for the quartet to learn - the reaction of the audience afterwards was overwhelmingly positive, more than justifying the decision to include it in the programme.
The last piece in the programme was Debussy's String Quartet in G minor, the only string quartet the composer ever wrote - and which, according to Mike Lloyd's introduction, provoked reactions which "ranged from ultimate praise to complete bewilderment" when it was first performed in 1893, and got a response much closer to the former than the latter on its first Rothesay performance.
After the concert - which concluded with another Mozart piece, the last movement from his Divertimento in D, as an encore - we asked Mike Lloyd how much time the group's members were able to devote to playing as a quartet, aside from their duties with the RSNO.
"As much time as we possibly can," he said. "We try to play together in as many lunch hours as we can. It's a bit like a marriage - you know immediately when you've met the right person, and we knew almost straight away that it was going to work.
"We're not doing it to compete with any other string quartets. Music should be fun, and that's what we're doing it for - to have fun."
Are there any particular challenges in orchestral musicians playing
chamber music in front of smaller audiences in more intimate surroundings, we wondered?
"There aren't any different challenges as such," Mike replied. "The challenge is simply playing chamber music - you can't hide behind a big section like you could in an orchestra, so any mistakes you make are sure to show.
"But an audience is an audience. I suppose when you're playing to an audience that isn't made up of regular concert-goers it can be a risk putting a piece like the Bartok in the programme, but Bartok is a composer who is very close to all our hearts."
And what of the audience's positive reaction to that Bartok piece? "Job done," Mike replied with a smile.