Endellion Quartet’s performance in Cambridge showed mastery of the genre

Endellion String Quartet

Endellion String Quartet - Credit: Archant

The Endellion String Quartet enthral their audience with works by Haydn, Beethoven and Shostakovich at West Road Concert Hall.

Cambridge University’s resident string quartet, The Endellion, performed the second concert in their current season at West Road Concert Hall on November 15.

They began with Haydn’s String Quartet No.3 op. 74 (1793), a relatively short but intense work whose first movement contains two sustained pauses, the first appearing very soon after the opening bars.

Any acquaintance with Haydn’s compositions accustoms one to his notorious musical jokes and pranks - abrupt stops and starts being generally par for the course.

But Haydn never employs these things gratuitously, always intending to make them enhance our perception of the music’s processes. Here he seems to promote effects that can only be created by the sudden cessation of sound, as the contemporary poet Wordsworth does when he explores in the ‘dead pause abrupt of midnight winds,’ for example, what he calls ‘a harmony though there be no voice.’

The quartet proceeded through the deeply reverential, almost hymn-like Largo (‘Abide with me’ came to mind) and produced some spirited playing in the third movement Minuet.

The Finale, taken at a breathless, galloping pace which has lent the work its nickname, the ‘Rider’, is full of ascents and swoops, with from time to time the 1st violin’s voice suspended momentarily in the highest register.

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This expressive masterpiece full of light and movement was succeeded by Shostakovich’s seriously reflective Quartet of 1946 (opus.73 No.3) where, and as it turned out, to the disapproval of the Soviet regime, he casts a cold eye on the tragedy and futility of war.

Shostakovich later dispensed with the explanatory prose glosses he had originally provided for each of the five movements, such as ‘calm unawareness of the future cataclysm’, his commentary for the opening movement’s dance-like and carefree little tune.

The Endellion Quartet perfectly captured the developing unease in the second movement, and the unleashed ‘forces of war’ in the third, with its intervals of strident chords and pizzicato passages, full of energy and dissonance.

‘Homage to the Dead’ was performed with a moving intensity, especially in the grieving plangent 1st violin passages that alternated with the dark moods of cello and viola, and in the mournful interrogative passages of the finale (‘The Eternal Question. Why? To what purpose?’) with its quiet, if troubled, conclusion. The Endellion performed the gradual diminuendo to perfection.

Finally came Beethoven’s lovely String Quartet No.10 op. 74, known as ‘The Harp’ (1809), so-called from the instruments’ vigorous pizzicato exchanges in the composition’s first movement.

The Endellion met its demands with conviction, making a perfect transition from the tender and hushed tones of the Adagio to the powerful and symphonic Presto.

The theme with variations that brought the piece to its assured ending, a surprisingly rushed and headlong coda, confirmed once again Beethoven’s supremacy as a composer in this particular episode of his career, with the Endellion Quartet’s performance of all three works throughout the evening clearly revealing their mastery of the genre.