Classical review: Edinburgh Quartet

BY HER own admission, Helen Grime finds writing string music a challenge, mainly because she doesn’t play a stringed instrument. But when did that ever hold back a decent composer?
The Edinburgh Quartet. Picture: ContributedThe Edinburgh Quartet. Picture: Contributed
The Edinburgh Quartet. Picture: Contributed

Edinburgh Quartet - Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh


On the evidence of her first string quartet – simply called String Quartet – the whole experience has clearly been as liberating and challenging as she claimed when she introduced, on stage, Wednesday’s premiere performance by the Edinburgh Quartet.

This continuous three-movement work is a triumph of concision – the masterful art of creating long-term meaning out of fertile nuclear ideas. These ideas develop through a series of duos, the cello and first violin interacting with, and counteracting, the other two players in what Bartok would have called “a game of couples”.

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But it’s the seamless unwinding of the music – the powerful sense of ebb and flow in which temperatures soar and subside with febrile intensity, together with the Edinburgh Quartet’s hot, incisive performance – that gives this charismatic piece its impulsive theatricality.

What’s more, it proved to be the high point of a programme that was otherwise prone to inconsistency in the more conventional quartet repertoire of Mendelssohn and Smetana. This was not the Edinburgh Quartet on top form.

Mendelssohn’s Quartet No 1, though tuneful and spirited for the most part, suffered frequent indecision, such as the shaky opening of the Canzonetta. And Smetana’s late Quartet No 1 – From my life seemed generally weary and, as in the lazy second movement unisons, without a true sense of purpose.

Seen on 21.05.14