Bath is currently hosting a series of afternoon concerts by the world-renowned Endellion String Quartet in the elegant surroundings of the Guildhall. The Flaneur attended their May 13th performance featuring quartets from Mendelssohn and Beethoven as well as Haydn – the father of the String quartet.
The Endellion quartet was formed in 1970 and has only had two changes of personnel in all that time. The decades they have spent playing together have given them a telepathic understanding that is clear from the start. Once the lights were switched on the four musicians gelled immediately, performing as a unity, the four bows fused in movement as though controlled by a single mind.
The afternoon’s programme began with Mendelssohn’s String quartet in F minor, Opus 80. This was the great composer’s last major work, completed in 1847. Almost immediately Andrew Watkinson and Ralph de Souza’s demonic agitato semi-quavers created a truly disturbing atmosphere. The beautifully rich tones of David Waterman’s cello and Garfield Jackson’s viola sparkled with the usual lyricism associated with Mendelssohn but also managed to convey the introspective musings of a piece written by a man nearing death. Light and airy yet at times intense and brooding, it was a perfect introduction to the more anxious themes of the rest of the work.
Composers may sometimes have started their works with loud chords – to get the crowd to be quiet suggested first violinist Andrew Watkinson – but Haydn’s String quartet Opus 20 No.4 in D major begins gently. The quartet only added to the delights of the characteristic Haydn score, each player in turn a master of the platform. On their website the Endellion string quartet are shown going one better than the Goodies and their Trandem, with all four of them and their instruments on one long four-seater bike, which may-or-may-not be called a quandem . This sense of fun pervades the third movement’s Menuetto, one of Haydn’s gipsy dances, the pizzicato of Watkinson’s and de Souza’s violins being a particularly amusing moment. The piece ends – as often with Haydn – quite unexpectedly with no final climax.
Beethoven’s String quartet No.2 in E minor was one of the three Razumovsky pieces that the Endellions are performing over the summer, written in 1806 for the Russian ambassador to Vienna. Starting with an almost symphonic grandeur, the players chase each other up and down arpeggios before rejoining in the conclusion. The long-limbed second movement breezes sensuously along, flowing like the Avon before, in the scherzo plunging into an energetic finale that the musicians perform with a wild, yet controlled abandon. During this they conspire with Beethoven’s own humour as the music becomes intentionally muddled before saving the day at the last.
The Bath Guildhall is a delightful venue, the style and acoustics of the Banqueting hall accentuating the experience of hearing a String quartet. Built in the year of Jane Austen’s birth and still retaining three stunning 18th century chandeliers which hang grandly over the audience, to attend a concert here is to listen to music layered with echoes of Georgian drawing-room entertainments.
The Endellion quartet have been described as ‘arguably the finest quartet in Britain’ by the New Grove dictionary and on this showing that is a description that is most definitely true. The concert was a delight for both connoisseurs and neophytes alike; if you can make the final Bath performance on Sunday 8th July don’t miss it.
The quartet have performed in Bath in March and May and one more performance remains on Sunday 8th July at 3.00pm. Tickets are available from the Bath box office. For more information about the Endellion quartet visit their website. They have an extensive repertoire available on cd and also feature in the musical documentary In search of Beethoven