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S & H Recital Review

Beethoven, Adès, Schubert Wigmore Hall, Tuesday, February 26th, 2002. Endellion String Quartet (CC)

The vocabulary of Thomas Adès’ Arcadiana of 1994 is a difficult one: it clearly challenged the Wigmore audience. Scheduled between the more readily approachable (not to mention familiar) twin-peaks of Beethoven and Schubert, Adès’ uncompromising language and propensity for recontextualisation of the familiar should indeed have been disturbing. And so it was.

Arcadiana is dedicated to the Endellion Quartet, who gave the première at the Cambridge Elgar Festival (in the same year as its composition). The disembodied, fragmentary world of the first movement, ‘Venezia notturna’ immediately set up the sound world whilst at the same time demonstrating Adès’ ability to bring other composers and eras into his own remit: at one point the music threatened to turn into Weill. Mozart (Zauberflöte) and Schubert (Auf dem Wasser zu singen) both made their presence felt in succeeding movements, as did Elgar: there is an affectionate reference to the E flat major of ‘Nimrod’. Arcadiana was, for this critic, the highlight of the evening.

Beethoven’s A major Quartet, Op. 18 No. 5 opened the concert. Most notable of the Endellion’s interpretative qualities was the unanimity of ensemble, but it should also be mentioned that they made a point of highlighting the modernity of some of the writing (most obviously in the Theme and Variations). Sometimes a more Viennese rhythmic ‘bounce’ would have been welcome (and there was a nagging doubt as to the first violinist’s intonation), but this remained a fascinating opening.

If doubts as to Andrew Watkinson’s accuracy of tuning were to recur in the Schubert, they were not enough to detract from a reading which was clear and confident in intent right from the strong initial statement. All of the movements were structurally clearly focussed and ensemble reached a peak of togetherness in the finale. Most notable of all was the gritty determination of the developmental passages, where concentration was felt to the utmost.

There is no doubt as to the Endellion’s high quality of programming: on March 5th they will present a programme of Berg sandwiched between Mozart and Schubert which promises to be just as stimulating.

Colin Clarke

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