Quartet in E minor, Op.59/2 (Razumovsky)
Five Movements, Op.5
Quintet in G minor, K516
[Andrew Watkinson & Ralph de Souza (violins), Garfield Jackson (viola) & David Waterman (cello)]
with Louise Williams (viola)
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 20 January, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Between now and March the Endellion Quartet is celebrating its 25th Anniversary with a series of three concerts at the Wigmore Hall, this being the first. Over the last quarter century, apart from London, they have performed regularly throughout the length and breadth of the UK with a series of residencies in Cambridge, Manchester and Maidenhead to which they are about to add “The Venue” in Leeds and “The Holywell Music Room” in Oxford, respectively the country’s newest and oldest concert halls. Future plans also include Glasgow.
From the Wigmore’s packed enthusiastic audience it was clear that the quartet has won many loyal friends, and quite rightly so for it is particularly commendable that a world-class quartet such as the Endellion should have devoted so much energy to building up a country-wide audience for quartet repertoire, performing regularly in some of the less fashionable parts of the UK, when it could, all too easily, pursue a starrier, more internationally oriented career.
The programme opened with a finely cultivated performance of the second Razumovsky Quartet (the first will bring the series to a close in March) whose Molto Adagio slow movement and the final Presto elicited real depth on the one hand and exuberant conviction on the other. The opening movement, however, would have benefited from a much more gruff, more abrasive approach in order to fully emphasise its angularity and forcefulness, the marginally too quick tempo adopted making everything sound too comfortable.
Webern’s Op.5 Movements (1909) were clearly a labour of love for this group, music of great beauty handled with extreme sensitivity to texture and sound quality; played like this it’s possible to believe that Webern might actually become popular, the two slow pieces magical in their hushed concentration. “Consider what moderation is needed to express oneself so briefly,” wrote Schoenberg apropos Webern’s music. Exactly.
After the interval the group was joined by Louise Williams, the quartet’s original violist; it was a delightful and musically astute gesture to include her in the celebration; her contribution to Mozart’s slow movement was quietly resonant.
This performance of the G minor Quintet improved greatly as it progressed. At least initially, beautiful and stylish though the first movement sounded, it was all too genteel, the qualities of scarcely suppressed angst and tensions seething just below the surface much underplayed so that it sounded like music for a summer evening rather than Mozart in his most tragic key of G minor. The Endellion then hit stride with a slow movement, one of Mozart’s greatest, which received one of the most poised, gravely beautiful and balanced performances imaginable. This led naturally to an equally satisfactory and poignant Adagio introduction to the finale, capped in turn by its companionable feel-good Rondo to send us home in a good mood.
There was a brief encore in the form of a fun piece called A Birthday Ramble (Happy Birthday barbecued quartet style) by Annette Isserlis. One looks forward with enthusiasm to the next concert in the series, a Sunday morning recital on February 15th which combines a rare performance of Barber’s First Quartet and Beethoven’s Op.127, the most Apollonian of the late quartets, which should suit these players ideally.