Joy and Lament: the Endellion Quartet at the Wigmore Hall

Joseph Haydn String Quartet in E flat, Op. 64 No. 6
Franz Schubert String Quartet in A minor, D.804 (‘Rosamunde’)
Felix Mendelssohn String Quartet in D, Op. 44 No. 1

The Endellion Quartet sound like an ensemble that have been together for 35 years. For Saturday night’s concert at London’s Wigmore Hall, it was not only that they played together precisely. Their endearing warmth of sound as all four voices blended distinguished them from younger (and even some older) quartets.

Photo: Eric Richmond

Photo: Eric Richmond

It was this sound that instantly lifted the audience as the Endellion Quartet opened with Haydn’s String Quartet in E flat, Op. 64 No. 6. Haydn wrote around 90 quartets, and this is not one of his best known. Nevertheless, the Endellion Quartet were eager display Haydn’s ingenuity as father of the genre.

Watching the players converse was particularly enjoyable. During the first movement, cellist David Waterman and violist Garfield Jackson brought out their interactions, sounding as individual voices even whilst accompanying. After a joyous finale, Schubert’s String Quartet in A minor, D.804 (‘Rosamunde’) presented a change in mood. Schubert composed the work a year after being diagnosed with syphilis, and his awareness of his own mortality finds expression in the desolate ‘Rosamunde’ Quartet. The entrance of Watkinson’s melody on the violin was distinctive, perhaps harsh. But this was necessary for a melody that should not only show Schubert as the master of song, but also be full of pained lament. The players of the Endellion Quartet were attentive. At different points, both second violinist Ralph de Souza and Jackson on the viola could slip in easily alongside Watkinson. And though the cello’s rich sound comes to the foreground in the third movement, Waterman could effortlessly shift from leading to accompanying.

Watkinson nevertheless took the lead for most of the evening. Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in D, Op. 44 No. 1 has similarities with his earlier Octet for strings. They both contain utterly joyful melodies and require virtuosic brilliance from the first violist. Watkinson’s playing was dynamic, given a boost by the lower strings brimming with buzzing energy. Indeed, he could hardly contain himself, his enthusiasm occasionally resulted in a few scuffed notes (though these hardly mattered).

The Endellion Quartet were at their most dazzling during moments of high intensity, when all the players had individual parts that somehow fitted together into a thrillingly complex but coherent whole. Mendelssohn was a master of this kind of writing, which he used for terrific effect at his quartet’s climax. Seized here by the Endellion Quartet, they came together for a culmination that was staggering in joy it unleashed.

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