Classical review: The Tokyo String Quartet, Crail

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THE opening concert of this year’s East Neuk Festival was a historic occasion.

East Neuk Festival: The Tokyo String Quartet

Crail Church, Fife

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Not only was it the penultimate performance of the 43-year-old Tokyo Quartet, but it was their final engagement in Europe and the very last at which they would play the four Stradivarius instruments assembled by Paganini, no less, which are now on their way back to the Japan-based Nippon Foundation which owns them.

A string quartet – with Martin Beaver and Kikuei Ikeda on violin, Kazuhide Isomura, viola, and cellist Clive Greensmith – renowned for the depth of their performances, perhaps it was inevitable that the Tokyo, who are retiring as an ensemble, would present the East Neuk audience with an intensely moving evening.

But there was surely added poignancy to the slow movement of Schubert’s C major String Quintet, for which the foursome were joined by cellist David Watkin.

Yet more remarkable was the less well-known String Quartet in E by Webern. Presenting a strikingly different musical landscape to the Mozart “Hoffmeister” Quartet which came before it, the Tokyo completely nailed the essence of Webern’s score, inspired by a profound quotation from the German mystic, Jacobus Boehme, which begins: “The sense of Triumph that prevailed within my Spirit I cannot write nor tell”. The sublime, still beauty of the quartet’s interpretation of this piece is something which will live on, even in their retirement.