More Quartets and a Camomile Lawn

I really enjoyed listening to all the Beethoven String Quartets a few weeks ago. I love the way the four instruments sound as though they’re one. My untrained ear can’t tell where one player starts and another stops; it’s just a cohesive whole.

Recently I’ve listened to more string quartets: a CD compilation of French composers (Ravel, Debussy and Faure) played by Quatuor Ébène.

Quatuor Ébène was founded in 1999 at the Boulogne-Billancourt Conservatory in France. The group first came to international attention in 2004 when it won first prize in the string quartet category at the ARD International Music Competition. In 2009, the quartet was named “Newcomer of the Year” by BBC Music Magazine for its recording of the Ravel, Fauré, and Debussy string quartets. The same album won the Recording of the Year at the 2009 Classic FM Gramophone Awards.

That’s the CD I’ve been listening to.

The music is wonderful and the performances just brilliant. But we didn’t buy the CD originally for those reasons.

We just wanted to hear again the music we’d enjoyed in the TV adaptation of Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn which is based on Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major, especially the part where it accompanied “The Terror Run”.

The five part adaptation of Wesley’s 1984 novel was first transmitted by the BBC in 1992. We have it on DVD and it certainly stands the test of time; we’ve watched it several times over the years.

Set just before and during the Second World War, with an aftermath that takes place in the mid 1980s, the action begins at the Cornish country house of Helena Cuthbertson.

The title is drawn from a camomile lawn between the house and the sea cliffs on which some significant events take place.

The production begins in August 1939, when young adults Oliver (Toby Stephens), Calypso (Jennifer Ehle), Polly (Tara Fitzgerald) and her brother Walter are visiting their disorganised Aunt Helena (Felicity Kendal) and her husband Richard Cuthbertson (Paul Eddington) in their house by the sea in Cornwall. Ten-year-old Sophy (Rebecca Hall), the daughter of Richard’s late half sister, lives with them and is delighted with the arrival of her cousins, especially Oliver. The family is often visited by the twin sons of the rector of the parish and by Max and Monika Erstweiler, a Jewish refugee couple from Austria that the rector has taken in, who are missing their only son, Pauli, reported to be in a German concentration camp. The cousins invent ‘The Terror Run’, a cliff path dash that they race at night by a full moon, and are joined by some of the grown ups, and Sophy is determined to run it, too. However, on a daylight practice run, a coastguard exposes himself to Sophy, with surprising results.

After fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Oliver is depressed and disenchanted, but develops a crush on Calypso. She fends him off, determined to make the most of her beauty and marry a much richer man.

Polly is intelligent and practical, and when the Second World War breaks out in September 1939 she joins the War Office to work for Military intelligence, while her brother Walter joins the Royal Navy, Oliver the army, and the twins the Royal Air Force. Meanwhile, Max and Monika are interned as enemy aliens. Calypso marries Hector Grant, a Scottish landowner and member of parliament, but has many affairs. The Erstweilers are released, and Helena begins an affair with Max, Richard with Monika. Walter is killed at sea, and Calypso has a son, Hamish, shortly after her London house has been hit by a bomb, with Sophy acting as midwife. Pauli Erstweiler is reported to have died in Dachau, but in fact he survives the war.

In 1984, more than forty years on, the survivors meet again at the house in Cornwall for the funeral of Max Erstweiler. He became a well-known violinist and bought the house from Helena after Richard’s death. Most of the cast changes: Rosemary Harris, Jennifer Ehle’s mother, plays Calypso in old age, Virginia McKenna the older Polly, Claire Bloom Sophy and Richard Johnson Oliver, who is now a well-known author. Oliver says he has had two failed marriages to Calypso lookalikes. He and Sophy find they are both single and leave the funeral together, planning to get to know each other.

The house now belongs to Pauli, who plans to redevelop it and replace the camomile lawn with a swimming pool.

(Synopsis from Wikipedia.)

If you haven’t seen The Camomile Lawn it’s well worth watching and I think it’s still on Netflix.

The Quatuor Ébène recording

of the Ravel string quartet is a joy to listen to; as are the other quartets on the disc. Apparently the group is known for its versatility and performs a variety of genres, such as classical music, contemporary music, jazz, and crossover. Beyond its classical repertoire, some of the group’s most popular performances have been crossover, such as a rendition of the music from the score of Pulp Fiction, arrangements of classic Beatles hits, and a jazz vocal/instrumental arrangement of “Someday My Prince Will Come” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Enjoy this version of “Over the Rainbow”.

Thanks for reading my blog today. Hope your day is going well. If you’re stocking up your Kindle for the holiday season visit our website for details of some books you might have missed.

Image credit: Image by naobim from Pixabay