Endellion String Quartet: Beethoven Cycle
The Endellion String Quartet continued its complete Beethoven cycle at West Road Concert Hall on Wednesday.
Two of the composer’s early quartets preceded a late one, where the difference in conception and composition at radically different stages of Beethoven’s life could easily be registered, even by someone with a cloth ear for music.
String Quartet in A major Op. 18 No. 5 got proceedings moving with a bold, confident, melodic Allegro. The delicate and lyrical exchange of first and second violins taken up by viola and cello, formed a pleasing, swaying Menuetto, leading to a theme and variations. The conclusion’s repeated intervention of the 5th Symphony’s famous opening four notes, seemed to anticipate the larger work, just as, later in the evening, the 4th movement of the Op. 132 quartet which the Endellions performed provided a thematic prefiguration of the 9th.
The second of Beethoven’s six Opus 18 string quartets opened with its lovely, graceful and very well-known Allegro, followed in turn by a soulful Adagio Cantabile, suddenly and surprisingly intruded upon by a pacier interval. Both the galloping Scherzo and sprightly Finale comprise engaging calls and responses from each of the instruments, these movements clearly justifying the name often allotted to the piece – the ‘Compliments Quartet.’
The second of the six late quartets (A minor Op. 132) has a mysterious and rather dark beginning, while the second movement contains a central dancing theme where the strings imitate the drone of a rustic instrument. The third movement of the quartet is celebrated in its own right as Beethoven’s holy song of thanksgiving for his recovery from an illness. It constitutes a slow Chorale leading to a short cheerful march representing a sense of renewed strength and confidence.
The concluding Allegro Appassionato is melodic, but melodic in a slightly apprehensive or nervously expectant manner.
Outstanding in performance on Wednesday evening were the final movements of both Op. 18 No. 2, and Op. 132. A collective appreciation was palpably shared by the audience which somehow went beyond applause.
Three more quartets are to follow on 29 January, and no doubt the concert hall will again be packed to witness this celebrated ensemble in the final season of its Cambridge residency.