Endellion String Quartet at Wigmore Hall – Haydn Lark, Mendelssohn 44/3, Beethoven Razumovsky No.2

String Quartet in D, Op.64/5 (The Lark)
String Quartet in E flat, Op.44/3
String Quartet in E minor, Op.59/2 (Razumovsky)

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

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 11 December, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Endellion String Quartet. Photograph: Eric RichmondCongratulations are in order for the Endellion String Quartet, celebrating its 35th-anniversary with a mini-residence at Wigmore Hall. Since its formation the group’s membership has remained remarkably consistent, with only one change, Ralph de Souza replacing Louise Williams after five years.

This concert began with a favourite, Haydn’s ‘Lark’ singing sweetly from the violin of Andrew Watkinson, to the enjoyment of the clucking accompaniment from his colleagues. There is charm in abundance running through this work, which cannot fail to put a smile on even the most hardened face, and the Endellion members’ performance had a lightness of touch that ensured the smile remained through the Minuet, purposeful but rhythmic, and the comic ‘moto perpetuo’ finale, its constant semiquavers unfurling from the first violin as if wound up beforehand. There were slightly darker moments, though, especially the minor-key section of the slow movement, which troubled briefly, as did the more turbulent Trio section of the Minuet.

Mendelssohn completed the set of three string quartets published as Opus 44 in 1838, though they went through many revisions before he was happy to let them go. The third work in the set is perhaps undeservedly the least heard and a sizeable structure of half-an-hour in length. This was a performance full of vigour, particularly in the outer movements, which were taken at challenging tempos – sometimes too quickly, constricting the melodic phrasing within its busy accompaniment. There was no lack of energy or rhythmic drive, though, and most impressive was the feather light scherzo, where the tremolos were incisively rendered even at a quiet dynamic. The Adagio provided respite, the Endellion musicians taking a romantic and expressive approach to its yearning melodies.

The recital finished with the second of the three string quartets Beethoven wrote for Count Razumovsky in 1806. There was immediate drama – as there should be – in the hefty two-chord motif dominating the first movement, the players showing how this rough-hewn utterance rides all-over the more graceful unison response – but also how that retort assumes importance as the movement develops. There was a keen and continuous tension between these two elements, aided by the musicians’ keen observation of silences – the rests written by Beethoven just as important as the notes! The slow movement took time for thought, its hushed chorale typifying a reserved but highly expressive approach, compromised slightly in the central section but unbowed. This was not the case in the scherzo, where the Endellion members found Beethoven’s syncopations to be deliberately jarring and bringing little relief in the trio where the quotation of a Russian song becomes compressed and ultimately distorted. We segued into the finale, its crisp march opening out towards a forthright and ultimately victorious finish, brought off with terrific playing.

Benjamin Britten has been omnipresent this year, and there was no getting away from him even in this concert, for the evening ended with an encore in the form of the ‘Waltz’, second of the Three Divertimenti, which was premiered at Wigmore Hall in 1936.

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