Edinburgh Quartet, Beethoven (St Andrew’s and St George’s West: 11 Jan. ’17)

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“The Edinburgh Quartet have some magic dust around them that creates real homogeneity and synergy”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars

I saw on Facebook that a friend of mine was going to Wednesday’s Edinburgh Quartet Rush Hour Concert, and “ticked’ that I was going too. “They’re playing the Rasumovsky Quartet”, he enthused, virtually. “Which one?”, I replied. “Eh?”, came the rejoinder. For not many people know that there are in fact three, all commissioned by Count Andres Rasumovsky, the Russian Ambassador to Vienna, with the stipulation that they should contain Russian themes. Well actually, the one we heard, the third and arguably the finest, didn’t, but it contained an awful lot of interesting new approaches to the genre.

The Edinburgh Quartet bring a pleasingly creative approach to their programming and tonight we heard from Edinburgh Artist Erik Petrie, who was working alongside them this week at their Residency at the Ocean Terminal and just hours earlier had completed a magnificent, colourful violin scroll canvas which the Quartet proudly displayed. Second violinist Gordon Bragg discussed the intriguing relationship between quartet and artist with Erik before the concert started.

The Edinburgh Quartet have recently adopted a practice of having a theme for their concert series, and the theme for this early part of the New Year is “Revolution”. For certain, the works by Mozart (French Revolution) and Shostakovich (post Russian Revolution and very influenced by Stalin) could be deemed as appropriately covered by this banner, but for Beethoven in 1808 it was stretching a point, other than that the Rasumovsky Quartet, Op.59 No.3, is certainly revolutionary in construction.

The first movement Allegro opens with a series of diminished sevenths punctuated with silences that set off an atmosphere of wonder and mystery, resolving into C major and we are away in more conventional quartet form. Quite a shock for its audience then and quite a surprise today. Comparisons and styles can legitimately be made to `Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet.

The Andante con moto employed a lot of pizzicato and if Beethoven was trying to persuade his sponsor that the quartet contained a Russian theme it would be here, with its intimations of folk song.

Come the third movement Allegro we found ourselves listening to a cheerful minuet, yet just as we were beginning to relax and take it easy we barnstormed into the final Presto at breakneck speed. The players did not make one slip in these very demanding passages which they delivered with real verve. One felt the spirit of troubled Beethoven, hounded by deafness and in the process of beginning to admit it to his brothers and close friends. On the early sketch of this movement he had written “Let your deafness be a secret no longer – not even in art.”

Yet again, despite a number of personnel changes, the Edinburgh Quartet have some magic dust around them that creates real homogeneity and synergy, giving the impression they had been playing together for years. We had a relaxed yet assured, inspired performance. The tight, together playing we have become accustomed to, and sheer listen-to pleasure, was joyfully experienced tonight as always.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 11 January)

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Edinburgh Quartet and Guests: St Andrew’s and St. George’s West: 25 Oct ’16

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“the standard of playing remains remarkably high …all the more commendable in the main work that was technically very demanding in terms of phrasing, notation and timing.”

Editorial Rating:  3 Stars

The Edinburgh Quartet are skilful not only in their playing but in their approach to their constituency. Their 2016/17 series is a combination of daytime, rush hour and evening sets in order to reach new listeners and move away from the relative predictability and, for some, the difficulty of getting to evening gigs. Each season, or part of season, has a theme, and this season’s theme is vested in their Scottish roots. Tuesday’s concert programme contained works inspired by the island of Skye and the actual words of Robbie Burns. Informal in approach within the relaxing environs of St Andrew’s and St George’s West in Edinburgh, the occasion is probably more accurately described as an informal lecture recital rather than a concert, and none the worse for that.

Cleverly, the band started with a brief introductory piece, demanding in intonation and timing, which they played without music. Gordon Bragg then interviewed composer Alasdair Nicolson who spoke of the inspiration behind his String Quartet No 3, “Slanting Rain”, which was the centrepiece of the evening. After that Mairi Campbell, guest musician and one of two violists in the opening number, spoke of her love of the Scottish dance and folk music idiom and her approach to her music.

On to the main event. “Slanting Rain” is a six movement work full of chromatics, a wide variety of bowing techniques, harmonics and dissonance. It is a difficult play, and not an easy listen. I did think that the advanced technical construction of the work got in the way of its musicality. The introduction to the fourth movement, “Impossibly distant tree lined paths”, treated us to a melodic introduction by EQ Apprentice Competition winner Morag Robertson on viola, and the sixth movement, “Into an abyss made of time”, was a very clever melange of time signatures and orchestration that definitely worked.

The evening drew to a conclusion with a deeply moving rendition of a Robbie Burns poem sung and played by Mairi Campbell, followed by James MacMillan’s “Memento”.

Those familiar with the Edinburgh Quartet’s line up would have noticed some new faces, some planned, some drafted in at the last moment. Tristan Gurney has left and the first Violin chair is currently being recruited for. Tonight’s locum was taken ill on the morning of the concert, and Gordon Bragg nobly took on the first violin part, bringing in Rachel Spencer on second violin. Morag Robertson will take the viola desk for the first part of the season while Fiona Winning remains on maternity leave.  Mark Bailey remains at the cello desk.   All these changes notwithstanding, the standard of playing remains remarkably high and, astonishingly, the cohesion of the band appears completely unaffected, as if they had all being playing together for years, all the more commendable in the main work that was technically very demanding in terms of phrasing, notation and timing.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 25 October)

Go to Edinburgh Quartet‘s homepage

Visit Edinburgh49’s St Andrew’s and St George’s West archive.