Music review: Edinburgh Quartet: Intimate Voices, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

The Queen's Hall in Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna
The Queen's Hall in Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE Edinburgh Quartet had stolen – respectfully, of course – the nickname of Sibelius’s sole string quartet as the overarching title for its autumn series of concerts, first violinist Tristan Gurney informed us.

Edinburgh Quartet: Intimate Voices

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Star rating: ****

And their “Intimate Voices” performance felt like just that – a celebration of the intimate, intricate relationships happening on stage between the four musicians.

It was a laudable aim – even if in the foursome’s opener, ­Schubert’s youthful E flat Quartet, D87, things tended towards the introspective side of ­intimate. As Gurney remarked, the performance felt like four players holding a musical conversation together, but despite its finely controlled textures and shapely phrasing, it seemed a bit too inoffensive to be truly ­compelling.

That was hardly the case with the Shostakovich Seventh Quartet that followed – the Edinburgh players captured its strange, ironic sincerity beautifully, turning from light-hearted tunefulness to incessant, washed-out despair in the first movement, and impassioned in a driven, forthright third movement. It was a very clever account, ­never over-egging Shostakovich’s opaque storytelling, and making it all the more powerful as a result.

Ironically, it was the piece that gave the Quartet’s concert its title that felt the least intimate. They really had the measure of Sibelius’s somewhat elusive “Intimate Voices” Quartet, from a beautifully simple opening to a barnstorming, ever accelerating finale, by way of a raw-edged, folksy twang to the playful fourth movement. Their intense communication was never in doubt, but it was a strongly projected, characterful performance – intimate, certainly, but on a grand, public scale.