Navarra String Quartet

Chamber Ensemble

"the excellent Navarra String Quartet"

The Guardian

"...They have a warmly-rounded and very expressive sound, perfectly suited to Haydn: on this showing, they are already in the first rank of his music’s exponents..."

The Independent

"the Navarra Quartet who deliver compelling performances."

BBC Music Magazine

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Magnus Johnston - violin

Marije Johnston - violin

Sascha Bota - viola

Brian O'Kane - cello

Since its formation in 2002, the Navarra Quartet has built an international reputation as one of the most dynamic and poetic string quartets of today. Selected for representation by the Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT) from 2006 to 2010, they have been awarded the MIDEM Classique Young Artist Award, a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, a Musica Viva tour, and prizes at the Banff, Melbourne and Florence International String Quartet Competitions.

The Navarra Quartet has appeared at major venues throughout the world including the Wigmore Hall, Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, the Sage Gateshead, Kings Place, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Esterházy Palace, Luxembourg Philharmonie, Berlin Konzerthaus, the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg and international festivals such as Bath, Aldeburgh, Lammermuir, Presteigne, Bergen, Grachten, Sandviken, Schwetzinger, Rheingau, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Aix-en-Provence, Bellerive, Harrogate Chamber Music and the BBC Proms.

Further afield they have given concerts in Russia, the USA, China, Korea, Australia and the Middle East, and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, RAI 3 (Italy), Radio 4 (Holland), SWR (Germany), Radio Luxembourg and ABC Classic FM (Australia). The Quartet has collaborated with artists such as Li-Wei, Guy Johnston, Mark Padmore, Allan Clayton, Francesco Piemontesi, John O’Conor, Simone Young and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.

Highly-acclaimed recordings include Haydn’s The Seven Last Words for Altara Records and a disc of Pēteris Vasks’ first three String Quartets for Challenge Records, which they recorded whilst working closely with the composer himself. The recording was described by critics as “stunning”, “sensational” and “compelling”, and was nominated for the prestigious German Schallplattenkritik Award. More recently, the Navarra Quartet recorded a disc for NMC Records featuring the music of Joseph Phibbs, and future recording plans include Schubert’s Late Quartets and the complete Britten quartets. Their latest recording, ‘Love & Death’, was released on Orchid Classics in July 2020, has received excellent reviews as “an illuminating programme” (Gramophone).

In March 2020, they directed the seventh edition of the Weesp Chamber Music Festival, close to Amsterdam.

The Quartet plays on a variety of fine instruments which include a Hieronymus II Amati and a F. Cuypers, the latter generously on loan from the Nationaal Muziekinstrumenten Fonds in the Netherlands, an unknown, old English viola and a Grancino cello made in Milan in 1698, generously on loan from the Cruft – Grancino Trust which is administered by the Royal Society of Musicians.

This biography is for information only and should not be reproduced.

Classical Vauxhall

March 2021

"Classical done differently", to use the festival slogan. That difference lies in the freshness of presentation and attitude, not in the quality of performance, which is uniformly high. Garvey, festival co-director, and his quartet colleagues caught the strange, airborne simplicity of the Shostakovich Quintet. In Beethoven’s early Opus 18, No 2, the Navarras showed wit and agility, reminding us precisely why the string quartet medium is likened to a “conversation”, here additionally full of Viennese bows and curtsies, beautifully suggested by the players.

Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian

Pavel Haas: Fata Morgana

Opera Holland Park / January 2021

The bows of the Navarra Quartet members are like paintbrushes, dipping deep into perfumed pots of scent and chromatic pools of colour which form sensuous sonic canvasses...the sense of unexpected joy and warmth is enhanced by stirring cello reflections from Brian O’Kane which seem to root the free explorations of the voice in the very real and physical.

Claire Seymour, Opera Today

Lammermuir Festival

September 2020

The Navarra Quartet and cellist Philip Higham (*****) [gave] a fascinating, deeply human account [of Schubert's String Quintet] – passionate and turbulent to the point of rawness in the opening movement and scherzo, yet alive with movement in its otherworldly slow movement too, and unafraid to expose the work’s precarious balance of hope and despair.

The Navarra Quartet (*****) returned on 11 September in a perceptive performance of Britten’s Venice-inspired Third Quartet, which captured the work’s elusive sense of decaying extravagance to a tee, from restless duets in its opening movement to the endless repetitions of its visionary finale, drawing heavily on Britten’s opera Death in Venice. Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 – for which the Navarra players were joined by pianist Tom Poster – provided a sense of brilliant release, and a thoroughly convincing five-player account that sparkled and tickled with freshness and fun, and felt like a true meeting of minds in its generous sense of give and take.

David Kettle, The Scotsman *****

Love & Death

Orchid Classics, July 2020

The Navarra String Quartet['s] playing has a transparent, febrile energy

Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian

The premise behind this album conjures up manifold possibilities, but the Navarra Quartet have devised an illuminating programme. Most perceptive are the ‘elegies’: that by Turina is a rapt if often fervent evocation of a toreador about to enter the bullring (and skilfully transcribed by the composer from the original for four lutes!)... An absorbing collection, on a par with the Navarra’s impressive release of Pēteris Vasks (5/11).

Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone

A stimulating mix... even the most darkly melancholic works are suffused with the light, expressive touch of the Navarra. Turina's Prayer is an evocative, tenderly played opener, the antithesis of the drama of the bullring, the calm before the storm, the balance of sound exquisite...Janacek's String Quartet No. 1 is played with a fine balance between intensity and lightness. The diversity of Janacek's expression is fully explored, from the skittering of strings to the frantic, hellish scratching of the third movement.

Sarah Urwin Jones, BBC Music Magazine - performance ****, recording ****

The Navarra String Quartet make a very positive impression here...[Puccini's I crisantemi] receives an affectionate and well-integrated performance with excellent balance among the instruments...They play with dramatic flair [and] choose good tempos and are both warmhearted and incisive as the music demands. Their sul ponticello is otherworldly in the second and third movements, and the dynamic range is excellent... The Navarra Quartet’s account of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet is also among the best of the competition...As a whole, this disc with its generous timing has much to offer the listener in the variety and quality of the works presented. It also well demonstrates the versatility of the Navarra String Quartet.

Leslie Wright, Seen and Heard International

The star turns on the album are by the Hungarian microminimalist György Kurtág (b. 1926), who requires all of your attention for all of one or two minutes and rewards your effort more richly than you could ever imagine.

Norman Lebrecht,

A hugely enjoyable and rich recording and one which makes me want to see the Navarra Quartet perform live...Joaquín Turina’s exotic and passionate La oración del torero (The bullfighter’s prayer) is an invigorating start to the album. Originally a work composed for four lutes in the 1920s, the arrangement for violin, viola and cello works beautifully... The Navarras delicate and exacting play imbue [Schubert's Death and the Maiden] with renewed freshness.

Art Muse London

Presteigne Festival

St Andrew's Church, August 2018

The Third String Quartet by the Latvian Peteris Vasks was played with much feeling... it was the elemental quality of Vasks’ music that emerged here, all air, wind and water, and atmosphere

The Guardian

Southbank Centre - International Chamber Music Series

Queen Elizabeth Hall, April 2018

The Navarra String Quartet's performance of Schubert's Quartettsatz in C Minor was fiery, dramatic and coruscating and revealed the ensemble to be evenly matched, with the violins and viola gently intertwining and Brian O'Kane's cello forging its own path and glowing - rather than growling - underneath. [...] The emotional complexity of Death and the Maiden was clear from the Navarra String Quartet's formidable and impassioned playing.

Jim Pritchard, Seen and Heard International

Schubert's Quartettsatz was given an energetic and gutsy outing by the Navarra Quartet, the lyrical cello line played with intensity by Brian O'Kane. In Chausson's Chanson perpetuelle [...] Pressler and the Navarra members played with urgency and sympathy. Death and the Maiden followed [...] it was a spellbinding performance.

Amanda-Jane Doran, Classical Source

Virtuoso playing by the Navarra String Quartet […] Exquisite.

Clare Colvin, Express

Nottingham: Lakeside Arts Centre concert

Lakeside Arts Centre, 30th November 2017

A precise, stylish, supremely well-balanced ensemble ... elegant, tuneful, beautifully controlled ... In [Schubert’s String Quartet in G, D887], a work which demands high technical polish – as well as the sense that a musical revolution is taking place - the Navarra Quartet found the perfect balance between emotional depth and the thrill of innovation.

William Ruff, Nottingham Post

Stoller Hall Opening Weekend

Manchester, April 2017

The Navarra – a Manchester-formed quartet – played their Beethoven first movement in graceful and genial style, with flashes of fire and fury showing through; their Adagio sensitive and with an appealing cello voice; and their finale working up to a fine peak of emotion just the right side of hysteria. In Shostakovich the slow movement held us in its spell, with technically superlative long, vibrato-less, sustained notes, and the finale was passionate and completely engaging in its self-revelation.

Robert Beale,

It’s hard to believe any of the participants can match the fervour of the Navarra, who brought this austere, restless, complex work to life, especially good in the fleeting  moments of lyrical transcendence. 

Neil Sowerby, Confidentials Manhchester

Fata Morgana; Song by Pavel Haas CD Review

Resonus RES 10183

Fata Morgana refers to the Tagore song cycle completed by Haas following studies with Janáček (1923) – and which receives an impassioned premiere recording by Nicky Spence and the Navarra Quartet alongside Valešová...from joy to despair, every emotion is here in subtle colours; a legacy of great human and musical worth.

Steph Power, BBC Music Magazine *****

Valešová and the Navarra Quartet bring out the myriad colours of the score to perfection. This is Fata Morgana’s first commercial recording, and it is a major event, for this is a work that transcends the limits of the song-cycle genre and deserves the widest possible circulation.


The Navarra Quartet really makes the most of its numerous opportunities for sensuality.

Jonathan Woolf, Musicweb International

Utzon Music Series

Sydney Opera House, March 2016

It is hard to imagine this work [Vasks' String Quartet No.3] being played better [...] The Navarras gave us a gorgeous performance with astute attention to every detail.

Steve Moffatt, Limelight Magazine

Chichester University Haydn Lecture Recital with Terry Barfoot

November 2015

The Navarra’s performance [of Haydn's 'Sunrise' Quartet] was wonderfully lyrical and full of light and shade. The second movement, a grave Adagio, began with a hushed, intense opening and as the movement developed, the interplay of the instruments, with the highly expressive first violin and cello, was superb. The minuet with its bucolic trio provided a perfect contrast, the players animated and rhythmical. The concluding Allegro ma non troppo was a treat, building superbly to the exultant final coda. [...] The Navarra are at the top of their game. Their integrated playing and fine ensemble are quite brilliant.

Chris Hough, Chichester Observer

Presteigne Festival 2015

St Andrew's Church, Presteigne; August 2015

The extraordinary realisation of this exquisite and enchanting composition, was roundly appreciated – but surely no surprise, as the pedigree of the artists, Navarra Quartet is undeniable.

Andrew Doyle, Hereford Times

The Navarra Quartet were joined by pianist Tom Poster for Dvorák’s Piano Quintet. All five performers were positively on fire for this imperishable romantic chamber work, playing with a passionate sweep that carried the audience along with them. A great evening.

Peter Reynolds, Hereford Times

But the most memorable of the new things I experienced was a string quartet (his second) by Joseph Phibbs, which was the centrepiece of an outstanding recital by the Navarra Quartet – an ensemble who play with the best kind of nervous energy and freewheeling excitement. Phibbs’ quartet required nothing less: it was exhilarating, vibrant, curiously but effectively constructed, and an unequivocal success on terms that brand new chamber music rarely manages.

Michael White, Catholic Herald

Mendelssohn ‘Complete Works for String Quartet’ - String Quartet No. 3, Op.44 No.1

Champs Hill Records CHRCD085

the immaculately executed white-knuckle ride set up by the Navarras.


... a true delight to me to find ten groups of young string players who take the composer's notes seriously...

BBC Music Magazine*****

The Navarra Quartet, almost matching the wistful sweetness of the Artemis Quartet in Mendelssohn’s D major Quartet Op.44 No. 1

BBC Radio 3 CD Review, Andrew McGregor

St George’s Bristol, Beethoven and Borodin Recital

May 2014

Right from the opening bars, the Navarra Quartet revealed their special quality: a sweet well-knit sound and impeccable intonation.

Helen Reid, The Bristol Post

Banff International String Quartet Competition, Third Prize

August 2013

And we cannot forget the Navarra Quartet, who gave us so many memorable performances this past week, including a moving and brilliant reading of Vivian Fung’s Quartet No. 3, and a masterly accounting of Britten’s Third String Quartet that will stay with me forever. Their interpretation of the Beethoven Razumovsky E minor quartet was replete with nuanced dynamics and articulation, ultimately scaffolding a sense of phrasing that was constantly supple, and never overworked. Perhaps what I appreciated most about Navarra’s playing, both yesterday and throughout the competition, was that they led me to always wonder what would happen next. Even though one may already know the notes full well of a given piece, I always came away with the sense that Navarra had something new to teach me every time I listened to them.

Calgary Herald

When the Navarra Quartet (UK/Ireland/the Netherlands) took their places as the fifth group and last to play before intermission, I was quite unprepared for how they would interpret Ms. Fung’s score. Over the years, denizens of this tri-ennial competition know that ten quartets will likely give ten vastly different offerings of the CBC/Banff Centre co-commissioned work, that it will be challenging but still idiomatically written for strings, difficult to execute, and filled with interpretively dangerous waters which these young artists must navigate. But I was not expecting the wonderful reading given by the Navarra Quartet.
In their accounting, I could also recall Ms. Fung’s eloquent anguish during her pre-concert talk over the Connecticut school shootings whose reports we horribly witnessed last year, in addition to the tremendous world conflict that she was documenting, relevant at this moment in Syria, all against a backdrop of her own personal revelations about her family’s history and its journeys of struggle. Indeed, this work could one day be nicknamed along the lines of String Quartet No. 3 - the “Dark Journeys” quartet. Navarra Quartet transfixed me with its beautiful conveyance of the composer’s interior world immediately from the start when they played the opening cluster chord. They understood the Middle Eastern prayer sections and the mixed narratives inspired by Schnittke’s chamber works (one of Ms. Fung’s favourite composers and one of mine too), which often contain scalding evocations of confronting mortality. These were juxtaposed frequently with slower sections that could be heard as chordal echoes of the transcendent mystical parallelism found in many of Messaien’s compositions, which required pellucid playing. Contrasting textured sections were frequently punctuated by furious bowing, glissandi, bowslap, rapid arpeggiation, and a whole host of requisite idiomatic features demanded of the performers.

Calgary Herald

the Navarra Quartet brought me to tears with Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 3, from 1975. They captured his slow and at times angry dance with mortality with remarkably tightly contained power.

Musical Toronto

Schoenberg Concerto, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain / Simone Young

Royal Festival Hall, 13 April 2013

the excellent Navarra String Quartet

The Guardian

Auditorium du Louvre - Mozart, Levinas and Debussy.

5 October 2012

the exquisite sonority of the instruments was remarkable[...] It was striking that this was a quartet of young players playing a young quartet [Mozart K.159], as their sound was one of very mature instrumental mastery. The players showed with precision and firmness the joyful mixture of intimacy and openness.
The musicians played seamlessly and meticulously, never hesitating before the composer’s [Debussy] extremely original chromaticism [...] The timbre and the colours were stunning

Vasks String Quartets Nos 1-3

Challenge Classics CC 72365

All three works, recorded in the presence of the composer, are projected with almost graphic immediacy by the Navarra Quartet who deliver compelling performances captured here in extremely vivid sound. Overall, then, this disc comes hotly recommended.

Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine

They play this repertoire with the utmost conviction, and judging by the photo in the book, to the satisfaction of the composer.

Siebe Riedstra, Luister, November 2010

The playing is nothing short of sensational, the precision and enormous dynamics absolutely thrilling, as is the clarity of recording., October 2010

We can be very brief about the Navarra Quartet: Amazing!

PS Mania Klassiek, October 2010

The stunning performance compensates a lot. The Navarra has specialized in a finely polished expression. Flawless intonations bring a sonority that causes a sensation in itself.

Thiemo Wind, De Telegraaf, October 2010

…this young UK-based ensemble understands his music down to the microsecond, and plays at a level that can be characterized as exceptional…

Volkskrant, September 2010

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