Music: The Endellion Quartet, West Road Concert Hall
Aaron Watts is enamoured with this masterful peformance
by Aaron Watts
Friday 27th April 2012, 15:41 BST
Mozart - String Quartet No. 14, K. 387, (1782)
Britten - String Quartet No. 3 (1975)
Mendelssohn - String Quartet No. 5, Op. 44, No. 3 (1838)
Andrew Watkinson (violin), Ralph de Souza (violin), Garfield Jackson (viola), David Waterman (cello)
The Endellions' rendition of Mozart's String Quartet No. 14, K. 387, (1782) was sheer delight from start to finish. The work was written in honour of Joseph Haydn, who likely approved of it in a private performance in early 1785. The opening theme in the Allegro vivace assai, which begins as an accompanied tune, was elegantly recast into its contrapuntal setting. Every instrument took on its active role with gusto; chromatic runs in from the cellist (David Waterman) were especially dallying. The Menuetto, which notably takes second place as in the K. 458 quartet of 1785, was tight and well-paced. I would have preferred greater dynamic range, but this was a decidedly graceful and modest reading. The third movement, Andante cantabile, seemed to confirm that not entirely convincing dictum that Mozart's composition from this period, following a supposed stylistic crisis in the 1770s, was overtly melodic. Powerful, elegant unison writing was brought to the fore; there was no hint of Haydn's more 'pithy motivic idiom'. Now the stage was set for what is, by my reckoning, one of the finest offerings in the repertoire: the full-blown fugato of the Molto allegro, looking ahead, as it does, to the extraordinary five-part fugal coda to the Symphony No. 41, K.551, of 1788. Animated by counterpoint and visibly enjoying themselves, this was a memorable rendition from the Endellion Quartet.
Britten's somewhat austere String Quartet No. 3 (1975) is a five movement work written towards the end of the composer's life. This performance reiterated its many contrasts and colours: a pleasing shift from typical 'biographical' readings that dwell on its harrowing possibilities. The first movement, Duets, was battering and adversarial until its final ethereal chords. I found the Lydian-mode Ostinato that followed tricky to navigate; its central, repeated musical idea lost its voice rather than its heart. The Burlesque was a little hammy, but its sudden deviations - which characterise the quartet as a whole - were arresting. The themes in the fifth movement, La Serenissima, were seamlessly passed from instrument to instrument. The main passacaglia section was ruminating and its tempo was bravely listless, though never lagged.
Unlike Britten, who only re-engaged with the string quartet medium later in life and remains known chiefly for his vocal works, it was chamber music that established Mendelssohn at the forefront of German music in the 1830s and 1840s. This performance of the String Quartet No. 5, Op. 44, No. 3 (1838) - not unlike the Mozart K. 387 in its witty, contrapuntal intrigue - was lucid and without too much embellishment. The Endellions were puckish yet nicely coordinated, especially during the brief scherzo. The first violin (Andrew Watkinson) made particularly elegant contributions to the Adagio non troppo. The final movement was swift and mostly dynamic.
This was a hugely coherent programme, masterly performed.