Quartettsatz in C minor, D703
String Quartet in C, K465 (Dissonance)
String Quartet in E minor, Op.44/2
String Quartet in D, Op.44/1 – III: Andante espressivo ma con moto
Elias String Quartet [Sara Bitlloch & Donald Grant (violins), Martin Saving (viola) & Marie Bitlloch (cello)]
Recorded 29 December 2008 in Wigmore Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2009
CD No: WIGMORE HALL LIVE
Duration: 79 minutes
The Elias Quartet was formed in 1998 (two of its members then studying at the Royal Northern College of Music). Previous exposure to these talented musicians has suggested the Elias as a notable ensemble, potentially the leader of the young pack. So it proves on this estimable Wigmore Hall Live release.
The recording quality is initially a little disconcerting, rather wide and ‘empty’-sounding (but there is an audience as the too-much applause evinces) and seemingly with an imbalance that makes first violin and cello too prominent. But the ear adjusts (or the engineer moved a slider or two during the concert) and one becomes aware of an intimate and well-judged acoustic.
The members of the Elias Quartet produce cultured and insightful performances. Maybe the Schubert is too lyrical and inward, its charge underplayed; nevertheless, if this is not the most suspenseful account, it does serve notice of the Elias’s narcissism-free beauty of sound and exquisite phrasing.
Similarly, one can imagine the opening of the ‘Dissonance’ Quartet being more inexplicable, but the first movement proper is lively and shapely, expressive without becoming cloying, the players’ sophistication and easeful interaction bringing its own rewards; when the exposition repeat is taken, the territory is familiar but the ground can still to be turned to discover fresh aspects. The Elias Quartet can spin a phrase with love without smothering it, as the slow movement demonstrates, and the finale is an invitation to smile. Tempos are always convincing, the music articulate and clarified but never sterile.
Darker tones and greater intensity are found for Mendelssohn’s E minor String Quartet, its musing and emotional outbursts brought off with justness, the typically elfin scherzo being wonderfully fleet and poised. With a slow movement that is emotionally uneasy and which spins-off into a dramatic, unresolved finale, the Elias Quartet has the measure of this always-impressive music.
As an encore, the Andante espressivo third movement of Mendelssohn’s Opus 44/Number 1 is quite lovely in its bittersweet song.