Classical review: Kuss Quartet, Edinburgh

Stepping in for an indisposed Belcea Quartet, the Berlin-based Kuss Quartet presented a varied programme of works, each from a different century, for the New Town Concerts Society.
Kuss Quartet: Varied programme of worksKuss Quartet: Varied programme of works
Kuss Quartet: Varied programme of works

Kuss Quartet - Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

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Hadyn’s output has attracted more nicknames than most composers’, however “The Frog” didn’t seem an obvious title for the String Quartet in D Major Op 50, No 6. Certainly the Kuss Quartet picked up on the composer’s playful chopping and changing of rhythms in the minuetto and there was a jokey quality to the repetition of the same note on different strings in the lively finale, but images of frogs did not leap to mind.

Written towards the end of his life, Britten’s String Quartet No 3, Op 94 is a more poignant offering. Although the five movements are sparsely scored, the quartet made every note count in this insightful and committed performance, which beautifully articulated the musical volatility. Whispered harmonics and a haunting lament formed the heart of the quartet. This took the edge off the more terse outer movements, for instance the searing dissonances of the Ostinato and the skittish Shostakovich-inspired waltz in the Burlesque.

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As you might expect from an opera composer, Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor – his one and only purely instrumental work – is intensely lyrical and dramatic. The Kuss Quartet gave a ravishing account of the first four movements, but were challenged by the speed of the finale, or “joke fugue” as Verdi called it, coming seriously adrift during the scherzo’s rapid contrapuntal passages.