Endellion Quartet

String Quartet in G, Op.76/1
String Quartet No.1 (Kreutzer Sonata)
String Quartet in B flat, Op.130 [with Grosse Fuge, Op.133, as finale]

Endellion Quartet
[Andrew Watkinson & Ralph de Souza (violins), Garfield Jackson (viola) & David Waterman (cello)]

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 7 February, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

A quintessential Wigmore programme, the Endellion Quartet was rewarded with a capacity house. The quartet’s new sponsors, a financial company, must have been delighted; it is encouraging to see classical music sponsorship emerging from a medium-sized UK-based firm.

The Endellion, fast approaching 30 years together, is the antithesis of some glossier ensembles, and the musicians got to the heart of the matter despite occasional fallibility. The Haydn encapsulated the Endellion’s music-first approach, a little rough and ready, but vividly communicating the music’s exceptional emotional range. Jocund and sturdy in the first movement, elevated and sublime in the slow one, rather too headlong in the Beethoven-anticipating Minuet (with its misplaced accents) but full of character in the bucolic trio) and, best of all, the passionate minor key finale. Haydn’s startling innovation was played with real vehemence. The movement culminates in one of Haydn’s best-delayed endings: sheer wit and perfectly timed.

As it must, Janáček’s Quartet No.1 received an all-or-nothing performance that did full justice to the piece’s extraordinary soundworld, a psychodrama played out in music: moments of ecstasy succeeded by agony, melancholy and dejection followed by extreme agitation. In Tolstoy’s original novella, a jealous husband murders his wife whom he suspects of an affair with a violinist with whom she plays duos, and the music reaches an impassioned apotheosis. With its extremes of passion and sudden silences, this is music where total commitment is far more important than beauty; the Endellion’s long musical cohabitation gives these musicians an edge because they can throw caution to the winds. Especially eloquent was Garfield Jackson in the all-important viola part.

To follow this with Beethoven’s Opus 130 with the original finale, Grosse Fuge, might have been thought to over-ambitious. The Endellion members have ‘lived’ with this music for many years and offered a cunningly structured rendering, slightly understated at first and charting to a memorably elevated reading of the ‘Cavatina’ and the life-and-death struggle of the closing fugue in which they had a titanic tussle. But struggle is implicit in this music’s cosmic dance and the music’s energy was fully conveyed. This bodes well for the cycle being recorded for Warner Classics.

This profoundly satisfying evening was rounded off with a further Haydn slow movement as an encore.

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