Endellion Quartet come home
27 Apr 2017
The Endellion String Quartet were on sharp corruscating form last night for a concert full of the freshness of the cold Spring evening. Feted internationally, they have performed over five continents and in the most glittering venues of world music; they return as the home team to an appreciative Cambridge audience.
The evening at West Road Concert hall was full of surprises – Beethoven was 30 when he composed the String Quartet in C Minor, full of hope and already celebrated he had his brilliant career ahead of him. The Endellions gave his melodic piece the virtuosic treatment with violinst Andrew Garfield bringing a breathtaking precision to the lead role. Here was a celebratory spring piece, played with characteristically ambitious pace to open a concert full of vigorous brio.
By contrast with the exuberant confidence of the young Beethoven, the piece to follow was written by the 74-year-old Leos Janacek in the last year of his life. He never heard it performed; the premiere came after he died. Yet the music gives no hint of a man near the end of his life. 'You only have to hear two notes and you know it’s Janacek,' quipped violist Garfield Jackson and truly the music is so original, so arrestingly modernist, Janacek’s style is indeed unmistakable.
And his theme? Love, or more accurately, sexual desire. The old composer had fallen for a woman a full 37 years younger than him and gripped by a desperately futile obsession. 'You stand behind every note, you living forceful loving,' he wrote to his inamorata. 'The fragrance of your body, the glow of your kisses – no –really of mine. These notes of mine kiss all of you, they call to you passionately.'
What emerges from this raw emotion has little to do with romance, much less fondly remembered loving thoughts. In this original vital music we live through the outrageous -- tragic sense of love denied, thwarted and unfulfilled. It is music of its time, 1928. Lyrical passages break up like some expressionist painting, dissolve into jagged fragments of sound and then re-unite into a melodic unity. Yearning sequences simply finish with a deft flourish.
There is nothing self indulgent about this overwhelming catalogue of human feeling, it is expressed as spare, spikey strange. Even the bowing on the instruments is uniquely designed to create an unsettled, uncertain atmosphere of musical intrigue. The savvy audience at West Road loved it. They thundered applause for the triumph of art over the sadness of disappointment in Janacek’s work -- and for the satisfying mastery of this quirky, almost bizarre piece from the Endellions at their most inventive.
The second half was as unexpected in musical terms. Rarely does an ensemble feature two cellos, but in this warm and lovely piece, by master of harmony Anton Arensky the twin instruments form a deep tonal base to the melodic overlay from the violin and viola. More than that, their interplay layered the depth of the sound. David Waterman was joined by the elegant figure of young Laura van der Heijden, already feted here in her home country. Her style matches David’s subtle un-showy expressive intelligence with the cello, a restrained effulgence that helped to make this heart-stirring piece such a moving experience for the audience.
More cello follows next month, 24th May at West Road Concert Hall, when the Endellions will be joined by Guy Johnston to create the magic that is Schubert’s String Quintet in C. There will be an end-of-term glass of wine to round off a particularly brilliant season for this always exciting quartet of brilliant players.