This afternoon I dragged myself away from the mulch and the pots of bulbs waiting to be planted out and went to the concert at Wrabness. I like Wrabness. It has a thriving garden club, a railway station, a church, a community shop, a woodland burial site, and a faintly arty vibe. In fact, as the hipster artists are priced out of Hoxton I could see them settling very happily at the far end of the Tendring peninsular, under the big skies, with the London art market a train ride away, and the stimulating mixture of marshes straight out of Dickens or Arthur Ransome and the twenty-four hour hum from Felixstowe Docks. And Grayson Perry put his House for Essex at Wrabness, not the electoral bellwether Basildon or the posh heights of Danbury.
I had made one trifling miscalculation, which was to think that I knew where the church was. As I eventually discovered you have to turn right over the railway bridge after passing the village hall. If you go straight on, believing as I did that the church will be on your right, you end up going around in a gigantic loop and finishing up where you were five minutes ago. My Essex street atlas, which I thought covered everywhere, did not have a detailed map for Wrabness and I couldn't get a signal to use the map on my phone. Luckily there were some people about to ask for directions. They told me how to get to the church and asked whether I'd been going round in circles in friendly but amused tones that suggested that a lot of people did.
As the lanes around Wrabness twist and bend they periodically reveal views across the river Stour to Felixstowe, which vanish again at the next corner. The sky is very, very big by the time you get to the church, and you have the sense that you are near the end of the land. There was a skylark singing high overhead in the opposite field. The church is small, plain and sweet, dating mainly from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, though it was extended as recently as 1908. It is Grade II* listed. The bell tower collapsed in the seventeenth century and they have been managing since then with a wooden bell cage in the church yard.
The musicians were a young up-and-coming quartet, the Castalian String Quartet, who were playing a programme of Schumann, Thomas Ades and Beethoven that they'll be repeating as a Wigmore Hall coffee concert in three weeks' time. Rather than put them at one end of the small church they were seated in the middle, facing each other, and played in the round. It meant that pretty much everyone in the audience had one player's back to them, but with no piano to completely block the view it worked fine, and certainly provided an intimate chamber music experience. The people in the front seats could have almost touched the musicians if they'd leaned forward. I was not that close after my detour, and on account of having parked some way back from the church because I didn't know if there'd be spaces left any closer (there were ) but found a seat towards the east end that was raised up a step from the performers, so had a reasonable view. Wrabness only put on about three concerts each year and do not have a stage.
The music was great, though I thought they warmed up as they went along and seemed more into the Beethoven than the Schumann. The Thomas Ades (born 1971) was a puzzle. I didn't mind it, but I don't understand why if composers want to write that sort of music they limit themselves to a string quartet instead of making use of electronics. I am on the Wrabness concert mailing list now. It makes a pleasant outing for a Sunday afternoon.