Edinburgh Quartet: Mozart, MacMillan, Dvorak. (Queen’s Hall 25 May ’16)

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“They played with zest, enthusiasm and perfect tonality”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars:  Nae Bad

I think the overriding reason I enjoy the concerts of the Edinburgh Quartet over many others is their understanding of how to put together a performance, rather than just playing. A lot of thought clearly goes into this, from the overall theme, whether it be Storm and Stress or New Horizons to the programme mix on the night: this evening it was Mozart and MacMillan, followed by Dvorak, leaping boldly from the eighteenth to the twenty-first and then back to the nineteenth centuries – and then there’s considerate way they always do their final tuning before coming on stage so that they just smile at us and get on with it – it’s not about them, it’s about the music.

And smiling was very much in evidence on Wednesday; they were clearly enjoying themselves, and so were we. They put us at our ease.

We started with Mozart’s String Quartet No 19 in C, K465, the “Dissonance”. The first twenty bars or so really were the most incredible piece of creative genius of its time; we could easily have been listening to Schoenberg, but after that the piece reverts to classical, Haydnesque form, and a charming work it is, too. Assured, beautiful playing with the violins parrying the melody with the cello in contrapuntal support. An honourable mention must go to cellist Mark Bailey whose warm tone really brought it all out in the last movement.

Next up was James MacMIllan’s String Quartet No 3. The full gamut of techniques was used here, long silences, not so much sul ponticelli but playing on the other side of the bridge, tapping and knocking the bodies of the instruments, crazy pizzicatos, and the first violin playing right at the very top of the register on the E string. The work started eerily with unison octaves before breaking out into a thrilling full tilt series of prestissimo arpeggios thrown from instrument to instrument.  The players gave total commitment throughout to a highly unusual but engrossing work. I cannot pretend all the audience found it to their taste, but they were all remarking on it at the interval, and I for one was bowled over. It is clearly a demanding work extremely well played.

We were given an easier ride in part two, and gently led to the conclusion of the evening with Dvorak’s String Quartet No 12 in F Op 96, “The American”. From the confident and assured opening of Catherine Marwood’s viola to the many familiar melodies picked up individually and collectively by the band, they played with zest, enthusiasm and perfect tonality and were clearly enjoying themselves and we found their enthusiasm infective. Pure joy –  and a real treat to bring a thoroughly enjoyable evening to a close.

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 25 May)

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