Music review: Edinburgh Quartet, Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling

After a hesitant start, this experimental performance finally caught fire in the roller-coaster finale to Beethoven’s third “Rasumovsky” Quartet, writes Ken Walton

Edinburgh Quartet, Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling **

The Edinburgh Quartet is undergoing a period of major reconstruction after a troublesome few years in which personnel moves have left only half its workforce intact. Thus an “experimental” lunchtime line-up on Saturday that saw regulars Catherine Marwood (viola) and Mark Bailey (cello) joined by trialist violinists Nicolas Dupont and Gongbo Jiang as part of the ongoing process to restore the ensemble to its full complement.

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It came as no surprise, then, to sense in the opening Purcell Fantazias (Nos 6, 8 and 10 from an unpublished set of 15) a somewhat cautious reserve: partly a natural consequence of the generous acoustics but also from the players’ unfamiliarity with each other. Intonation frequently wavered; the final Fantazia nearly came a cropper.

The Edinburgh Quartet PIC: Sandy Butler

What this performance most effectively delivered, through its digestible complement of contrapuntal perfection and appetising Purcellian dissonance, was an hors d’oeuvre well-matched to the main dish, Beethoven’s third, more calorific Rasumovsky Quartet.

Here was something way more challenging to grapple with, providing opportunities for the ensemble to really open up and source sufficiently increased expressive individual freedom to match Beethoven’s heated, theatrical discourse. But even then, it took time for the fire to fully ignite.

The mystery-soaked opening bars boded well for the ensuing first movement drama to unfold. It did to some extent, but often with unfulfilled definition and character.

Where the slow movement saw the warmest and loveliest colours emerge, the following Menuetto failed to differentiate itself convincingly.

It was in the roller-coaster finale, its ferocious fugue, that the ensemble eventually hit the spot, fully energised and rapier-like. More of that and this long-established Quartet’s road to recovery could bear the necessary fruit.