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.