OxFolk Reviews: ‘Vortex’

Ben Ray reviews Methera's new album 'Vortex', and is swept away by their live Corpus performance

Methera

There is something about a string quartet, I find, that sounds incredibly intimate and personal. The close call and response of the instruments, now rising and falling together and now breaking away into separate, enveloping melodies, only to come breathtakingly together at the tune’s end. This is the magic that Methera weaves around the listener in their latest album, ‘Vortex’. A mixture of adapted 17th century tunes and of pieces composed by the musicians, it is impossible to listen to this music and not feel its relaxing waves wash over you – an aspect of their playing that comes across even more in live performance. The group seemed to know each other like the backs of their own hands (or bows): with John Dipper and Emma Reid on fiddle, Miranda Rutter on viola and Lucy Deakin on cello, the gig seemed less of a concert by a group of professionals and more an intimate meeting of friends. The players sat facing each other in a square, with the audience arranged around in a circle, giving the performance an intense, overwhelming focus on the music and the interaction of the instruments – a brilliant touch.

Methera have been called a ‘ground breaking quartet’ playing ‘contemporary traditional music’ –the incredible skill and delicacy within their playing meaning the terms ‘contemporary’ and ‘traditional’ become not dichotomies but natural partners. This exploration of musical style and playfulness comes across beautifully in ‘Vortex’ – the elegant mixture of new and old tunes keeps the form of the music invigorating and fresh, with each instrument contributing to the whole in perfect, equal harmony. Listening to this, it is clear Methera have a long history of working together – indeed, this is their 10th anniversary tour. Their understanding of each other shows in their music: in the fast-paced tune ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ each instrument weaves around the other to create a dense fabric of sound, whilst in ‘Late Longings’ the slow, elegant opening notes of the fiddle are delicately accompanied by the soft undertones of the viola. Methera know when less is more – which makes their energetic performances all the more powerful.

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What enhances the personal link within the music are the stories behind each tune, which, when watching them live, the group discussed before each performance. This created a sense of closeness and geniality that had the audience laughing and even holding discussions with the musicians mid-concert, with running jokes forming throughout the night. The title track originates from John Dipper’s experience of watching a snow storm out on a river in New York; ‘Fox & Blackbird’ from a woodland walk Emma Reid took one summer’s morning. This, aside from their sheer musical skill and close interaction, made their performance a magical event. ‘Vortex’ exhibits this perfectly – it’s a beautiful musical construction, with each tune helping to form a soft, delicate tapestry. As one friend described it, “it’s like taking a warm, musical bath.” I will definitely be returning to soak in Methera’s playing in the future.