Review: Endellion String Quartet at West Road Concert Hall on February 27, 2019
The Endellion String Quartet continued its 40th Anniversary season at West Road Concert Hall on Wednesday evening, performing works by Haydn, Kissin and Beethoven.
Haydn’s String Quartet in A Major Op. 20 No. 6 made for a lively start. Its cheerful opening Allegro was succeeded by a touchingly melodic Adagio, with the inexorable rhythm suddenly intruded upon by the briefest of melancholy passages towards the end. A short Menuet returned the mood to one of sweetness and light, while the wonderful fugue, full of confidence and brio suggested that something uneasy-making had been worked through and all in prospect was cheerful again. Here was yet another of Haydn’s delightful compositions played by the Endellions with their usual charm and insight.
Advertised as its UK Première, Evgeny Kissin’s strings composition, Quartett (2016) was the next work to be performed. Kissin, an instinctive musician whose talent was obvious when he was barely out of his infancy, is best known as the phenomenal Russian piano virtuoso who took the world by storm in the 80s and 90s. Cellist David Waterman, introducing Quartett, said that Kissin had composed throughout his career, and that although there were obvious influences from composers such as Shostakovich and Arvo Pärt, his own voice was very much present, especially in the slow intervals of this work.
The first two movements certainly owed much to Shostakovich, the droning cello in the first, and the hurried, urgent register of the second recalling the 8th string quartet, written at lightning speed in Dresden, and suggesting anti-aircraft fire launched at a high-flying bomber. But the depth and poetic quality of the slow passages concluding the second, third and fourth movements clearly commanded the whole attention of the audience and, as David Waterman had said, gave Kissin’s contribution to the string quartet genre his own definitive voice.
After the interval came one of Beethoven’s late string quartets, the String Quartet in B flat major Op. 130, with the famous final movement, the Grosse Fuge, standing in its rightful original place.
The lengthy first movement made up of slow passages alternating with brisk ones, is succeeded by a brief Presto taken at a terrific pace, with a degree of humour emerging in one or two places. The third is a pleasant minuet, while the fourth movement with its lilting well-known melody continues the dance-like flow. The infinitely affecting Cavatina, a movement which reputedly had led its own composer to tears, is succeeded by a powerful and complex fugue, a waterloo of a piece for quartet performers, and one which Beethoven was obliged to replace with the more traditional finale that in fact would turn out to be his very last composition.
The Grosse Fuge, written when its composer had gone stone deaf, is reflected in the mazy introspection it shares with some of the late piano sonatas such as the taxing Hammerklavier.
The performance of these physically demanding works can only be adequately appreciated by attending a live performance. Making it happen is about many things, but to watch the Endellion String Quartet deliver their impeccable programmes is to understand just how much more is required of them than outstanding musicality.