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An evening of exceptional musicianship' with The Endellion String Quartet

By John Gilroy

The Endellion String Quartet
The Endellion String Quartet

The Endellion String Quartet, Cambridge University's 'Quartet in Residence,' continued their current season's programme at West Road Concert Hall on Wednesday evening (February 14) with a work each by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

The abysmal weather had not deterred the large audience, and it was just as well because they would otherwise have missed a rare opportunity to encounter these three extraordinarily beautiful compositions performed with the Endellions’ customary excellence.

Haydn’s Quartet Op.20 No. 3 in G minor known, somewhat incongruously for a wet Wednesday as ‘The Sun,’ is, contrary to its name, a work of sadness on the whole, full of strange timings and pauses. Its sombre minuet comes to an indeterminate stop, this followed in turn by a melancholy third movement containing, unusually, a solo for the viola.

Overall, however, we were dealing here with the pleasures of melancholy, a mode very familiar to Haydn’s own period, and there was something oddly pleasing about this quartet’s continuous struggle to settle down which it could never seem to achieve. This was Haydn’s music in pre-Romantic mood.

Mozart’s K.589 in B flat major, on the other hand, was lighter and exquisite, moving towards a sprightly conclusion full of the witty and playful exchanges one associates often with Haydn himself. The quartet obviously owed much to that composer. Its memorable slow movement is the jewel in the piece, a rather stately larghetto of some gravity, while the menuetto which followed it was a lovely movement, again with Haydn-like pauses.

After the interval came Beethoven’s Op. 132, one of the handful of string quartets to which he devoted the last three years of his life. The ‘late quartets’, as they are known, all have sharp contrasts of mood and an extraordinary range of emotion, and of none is this truer than the Quartet in A minor.

The earnest opening of the allegro gives way to a beautiful, slow, singing melody, while in the second movement the tune is supported by a ground bass on the cello and a drone on the two violins to reproduce a rustic musette.

The slow movement of the work, lengthy and deeply introspective, is a famous autobiographical piece comprising a chorale that represents Beethoven’s thanksgiving for deliverance from illness, and a more confident second theme expressing his confidence in renewed strength.

The Endellions in this slow movement created a wonderfully devotional mood, commanding the same sort of focussed attention from the audience that was so memorably produced last month in their performance of the andante funebre of Tchaikovsky’s 3rd string quartet.

If the concert had begun with the breaks, pauses and timing uncertainties of Haydn, its conclusion did just the opposite with Beethoven’s swift follow-up march, and waltz-time finale.

There was something intensely moving about this quartet where the composer’s age and profound deafness seemed now to have removed him from this world altogether.

This was an evening of exceptional musicianship, and we eagerly anticipate the next concert on Wednesday, March 7 which is to include Brahms’s String sextet No.1 in which the Endellions will be joined by Cambridge students Victor Sun, and cellist Laura Van Der Heijden, BBC Young Musician of the Year, 2012.


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