Gig Review: Iva Bittova + Skampa Quartet


THE chance to spend an evening listening to a blend of folk and jazz, ancient poetry and modern strings, was an intriguing invitation.

In eager anticipation I took my seat for the performance by Moravian musician-composer Iva Bittova and the award-winning Skampa Quartet in the intimate and formal surroundings of the Howard Assembly Room at The Grand Theatre in Leeds.

And what a pairing.

The Czech string quartet – on violin, viola and cello – energised the crowds with their folk rhythms, jazz harmonies and distinct classical timbre.

Bittova astonished with performances that left the audience guessing where her voice ended and her violin began.

The interpretation of Leos Janacek's Intimate Letters – in four parts – proved a perfect introduction to the technical skill of the musicians who captured the heartbreak and drama of the late composer, who late in life had become infatuated with a married woman 38 years his junior.

But before the room was consumed by despair in breezed a spritely Bittova, bursting with mischief and in full character ready to perform Janacek's Moravian folk poetry.

In a childlike warble and with a pure voice she retold the ancient stories of love through song and physical expressions (and a handy written translation for her audience), stepping and whirling around the stage, stopping only to accompany or prompt the musicians with earily accurate imitations of violin or cello.

Probably the most memorable performance from the drama graduate was an impersonation of mosquitos and birdsong during a recital of Janacek's Gnats Wedding, which won laughter and applause from an appreciative audience.

After the interval, Skampa continued to demonstrate their endless versatility, in particular during Pavel Fischer's Morava when some downed instruments to use their hands as percussion instruments.

Bittova also performed some of her own work, including Rain and the Crying Epilog.