Tippett Quartet

String Quartet in E minor, Op.83
String Quartet No.3
String Quintet No.2 in G, Op.111

Tippett Quartet [John Mills & Jeremy Isaac (violins), Maxine Moore (viola) & Bozidar Vukotic (cello)
With Lawrence Power (viola)

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 29 June, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The Tippett QuartetThis concert had a valedictory air in that all three works were written near the end of their composers’ careers. But whereas the first two works performed, both by English composers, gave the distinct impression of embers burning at a low ebb, the final work, by Brahms, had a fiery intensity akin to his final symphony, the Fourth.

The String Quartet by Elgar is one work of three late chamber efforts, the other two being the Violin Sonata and the Piano Quintet; all are contemporaneous with the Cello Concerto and all display autumnal feelings. The quartet is the most melodious of the three chamber works. The Tippett Quartet gave an affectionate account, which sometimes could be construed as laboured, particularly in the first two movements. Elgar is struggling throughout to recapture his former grandeur and there is more life in this work than we heard on this occasion. Indeed the generally slow tempos drained much of the individuality out of the music and made it sound like Brahms, which is a bit disconcerting for a work written in 1919!

William Alwyn’s Third Quartet (1984) was written the year before he died and inspiration was clearly lacking, particularly in the first movement, which is best described as ordinary. The music is undistinguished and the gestures are commonplace. Thankfully the second and final movements are much more imaginative with many flights of fancy. It is a pity the elegiac coda outstays its welcome. The Tippett Quartet clearly believes in this work although there are many more rewarding English string quartets from the same period awaiting discovery.

It was, therefore, Brahms who lifted spirits with his Second String Quintet. “It really is time to stop”, he wrote to his publisher on its completion but if that is how he felt it was not due to a lack of inspiration. The first movement positively bursts upon our senses with great exuberance and gusto. The young, urgent Brahms of many years before pervades this work in a quite striking fashion. The two middle movements resemble his favourite ‘lighter’ style and the ‘gypsy music’ finale brings the house down.

The Tippett Quartet was fortunate in procuring Lawrence Power to join in the Brahms and he floated the gorgeous melody that opens the slow movement most eloquently. The whole performance had an energy and sparkle that had been lacking in the first half. Young players often overstate the wistful, sad charm of late Elgar and mistake such for devotion thereby failing to see the wood for the trees. Be that as it may the Brahms quintet inspired the players to produce a life-enhancing performance that probably made new friends among the audience unfamiliar with this late flowering manifestation of Brahms’s genius.

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