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The Endellion String Quartet put on ‘memorable performance’ of ‘superb musicianship’

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The Endellion String Quartet
The Endellion String Quartet

The Endellion String Quartet’s concert at West Road on Wednesday evening (January 17) began with the cheerful elegance of a late eighteenth-century work by Beethoven, but ended with the sombre tones of Tchaikovsky lamenting the loss of an esteemed friend and colleague.

As always, the Endellions’ superb musicianship was in evidence throughout the programme, which also included compositions by Mozart and Webern.

The second of Beethoven’s six opus 18 string quartets, No. 2 in G major, opened with a graceful and melodic allegro, followed in turn by a soulful adagio cantabile, including a brief and surprising allegro intervention. The scherzo sequence taken at a galloping pace, together with the sprightly and triumphant finale, comprised engaging calls and responses from each of the instruments, both movements clearly justifying the name often given to the piece - the ‘Compliments Quartet.’

Next came Mozart’s Quartet in D minor K.421, with a stately opening movement succeeded by a tender and lilting andante and a succession of pauses. The first violin played an engaging melody with a plucked accompaniment in the minuet. A set of variations containing, to this reviewer at least, almost a ‘Scottish’ element in their melodies, brought this lovely work to its conclusion.

In the minutes left before the interval, and ‘minutes’ is the operative word here, we heard the Six Bagatelles for String Quartet Op. 9 by Webern, which took no more than six minutes to perform.

Atonal and expressive, these intense and sparse fragments exploit to the full the capacity of each instrument both as a solo entity and in its contribution to the reciprocal demands of a quartet. The performance was mesmeric.

Sounding very strange, coming as it did at the conclusion of the Beethoven and Mozart quartets and immediately before the last work on the programme, the Webern Bagatelles were strategically placed, as this composer was of course vehemently at odds with the kind of neo-Romantic work one associates with Tchaikovsky.

The String Quartet No.3 Op 30 in E flat minor is elegiac in purpose, as Tchaikovsky is thinking throughout of the Czech violinist Ferdinand Laub who had died in the year previous to its composition.

The quartet is deeply introspective and private, and the Endellions had now to engage with an epic work to succeed their already substantial choices in the first part of the concert.

The first movement, itself almost 20 minutes in performance, began with a beautiful violin tune, repeated by the cello and returning after a prolonged interval of passionate and moving sequences.

The lively and pacey allegretto gave way to an andante funèbre, a funeral march interspersed with cries of grief, then a mournful liturgical monotone, and then a beautiful melody, the violin and cello prominently sharing it with the viola coming in. The whole movement dissipates ethereally, and the Endellions wonderfully achieved the pathos of this fade into silence amidst a great hush in the audience.

A comparatively vigorous and joyful finale, obviously celebrating the life of the deceased violinist brings the work to its conclusion, but not without the sad memory of his loss where, just before the end, four notes played slowly on the cello, perhaps a coded musical expression of his name, recall the quartet’s essentially elegiac mode.

What levels of synchrony and sustained concentration it must take for the Endellion String Quartet to produce such memorable performances of this kind. A thoroughly enjoyable evening of wonderful music making.

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