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Review: The Endellion String Quartet: Beethoven Cycle

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The Endellion String Quartet, in its final season at West Road Concert Hall, continued its journey through the complete string quartets of Beethoven on Wednesday evening (February 26).

The Endellion String Quartet. Picture: Eric Richmond
The Endellion String Quartet. Picture: Eric Richmond

First to be performed was the Quartet in C minor Op. 18 No. 4. The only Opus 18 quartet in the minor key has an earnest and determined commencement with, at one point, a lovely melodic intervention from the cello and the first violin responding to some strenuous strokes from the other three instruments.

The second movement, Andante Scherzoso, has a fugal beginning and is upbeat and busy. The swaying Menuetto which follows it gives way to an Allegretto with lively exchanges among the instruments before it speeds towards a capriciously playful ending.

Although billed in the programme as the first to be performed, the Endellions had decided to make the F minor Quartet op. 95 (Serioso) second on their programme. No reason was given for this change, but the Quartetto Serioso is a chronologically later piece by more than a decade.

There was a dynamic opening, then a melodious interval with, again and again, pacey interruptions from all four instruments together. It was as though the lyrical impulse made repeated efforts to prevail but was never allowed to get going.

A soulful cello opened the second movement, followed by the other three instruments in similar vein. The tempo accelerated into a fugal piece with the cello’s opening melody again taken up before all subsided into quietness.

A surprising and vigorous start (designed almost to make you jump after the previous movement’s conclusion) heralded exchanges among all four instruments, and was succeeded by a reflective opening to the final movement - a lilting melody where, as in the first, through the intrusions of some passionate bowing it was never enabled to develop.

After the interval came the lengthy Quartet in F Op. 59 No. 1, situated in composition between the previous two being performed and one of the Razumovsky quartets, so named for the Russian ambassador in Vienna, who had stipulated the inclusion of a Russian folk tune in the Opus 59 works.

The purposive first movement opens with a beautiful and well-known melody on the cello, and contains at one point a passage inspired perhaps by the pealing of bells (a very Russian touch) with all the instruments chasing each other in a descending scale. There is a similar moment in the second movement of the F minor where a descending pizzicato scale on solo cello recalls the ringing of bells.

The slightly uneasy-making staccato chattering of instruments among themselves in the second movement is succeeded by an infinitely sad and deeply affecting slow movement, where again the pizzicato cello as background for the music of the other three seems to be marking the inevitable passage of time.

However, the quartet does not sustain this mood. The final complex movement succeeds with brightness and optimism, perhaps unexpected in the light of what precedes it, but nevertheless very definitely there.

As ever, the Endellion String Quartet put their customary gold seal on all three performances as they took us one stage further into our understanding of the incredible genius of Beethoven’s music.

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