“Precision mirrored with passion”
One of the many appealing aspects of our home string quartet is the creativity of their programming. Chamber Music is beautiful but a full concert can be a little samey. Not so tonight. Who else would start with the young Schubert, and then follow it immediately with Shostakovich, a leap of almost 150 years in composition, and make it work?
This was the second Edinburgh Quartet concert in their Intimate Voices series. Following its successful launch at St Andrew’s and St George’s West almost a month ago, the Intimate Voices concept highlights the extraordinary intimacy created by the intense exposure and interdependence of the string quartet genre.
The publisher who mistook Schubert’s 10th String Quartet when discovering it posthumously could be forgiven for mistaking it to be a more mature work, but we now know Schubert wrote it when he was sixteen. Properly fashioned nonetheless, the Edinburgh Quartet immediately developed its luscious, rich and warm tone that quickly drew us in. Confidently and perfectly executed, this delightful piece with its nuances of Haydn and Mozart set us up for the treats to come.
The Shostakovich String Quartet No 7 proved an exciting thirteen minute contrast. The F sharp minor key created an atmosphere of loss (Shostakovich’s first wife Nina died suddenly of undetected cancer of the colon. Their marriage had had its moments, but he was irreconcilable to the loss and the work is dedicated to her). As so often with Shostakovich, the sparse strings have all the unstated menace of a horror movie, the fearful anticipation that worse is to come. Throughout the three movements the tension gradually built into a cacophony of searing anguish only to fade away into the ether at the end. Here the Edinburgh Quartet’s playing was undoubtedly world class. Precision mirrored with passion.
After the interval we dropped back fifty years and settled down to Sibelius’ String Quartet “Voces Intimae”. Even though Sibelius himself was extremely wary of “names” for his compositions, (“You know how the wing of a butterfly crumbles at a touch? So it is with my compositions; the very mention of them is fatal”) the applied nomenclature is apt as it was self-penned. The intimate nature of the work was immediately set by the opening violin and cello passage. It is almost a feeling of reassurance that one gets from the Quartet’s complete homogeneity; they are at ease with each other and handled the frequent dynamic and tempo changes assuredly. They kept the spirit going all the way through the five movement work; their playing at times spellbinding, with aching tenderness in the Adagio di molto where Sibelius wrote the words Voces Intimae on the manuscript, and then frantic, with a wild moto perpetuo in the final Allegro, as they drove it to a breathtaking finish.
Not many promoters would put on a programme as varied as we had tonight. It gave us a rich panoply of romantic music spanning 150 years. The Quartet’s reputation continues to grow.
Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 11 November)
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