Shining musical camaraderie



Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall/Tuesday

The first of several eminent string quartets to be visiting Singapore over the coming weeks, the Endellion Quartet from England probably carried with it the strongest reputation of them all.

Founded in 1979, the members have not changed since second violinist Ralph De Souza joined in 1986. And from the very start of Haydn's Op. 64 No. 4 Quartet, that sense of complete familiarity with one another's approach to playing was obvious.

There was a natural sense of give and take which seemed to come from having complete faith in what one another was doing. It must take decades to reach this level of musical mutual understanding.

What might have been less obvious to members of the audience listening to the Haydn was why the Endellion Quartet has earned such a high reputation. For this was a performance high on confidence but low on actual engagement with the music.

It had a slightly superficial feel to it, not helped by a generally thin sound and a tendency to rattle through the movements, leaving little space for details to emerge.

First violinist Andrew Watkinson offered a surprisingly shapeless theme for the second movement's trio.

His few added ornaments did not sound totally convincing and the plucked support from the other players lacked Haydnesque wit.

Things were very different in a fiery and at times thrilling account of Bartok's Fifth Quartet.

Written in 1934 with the disturbing rise of fascism in Bartok's native Hungary and the threat of war looming over Europe, the troubled, often angry character of the music was vividly portrayed in this dramatic performance. The irony of the central movement's ersatz-folk dance was particularly powerfully conveyed here.

The third and final work in the programme was another outpouring of anxiety and nervousness, but this time of a purely personal and intimate nature. Sibelius' Intimate Voices Quartet very much lived up to its title.

The intimacy of the music was engagingly brought out, not least in the gentle third movement dialogue between the viola of Garfield Jackson and the cello of David Waterman.

There was something almost uncanny about their ability to converse intimately through their instruments.

Sibelius' music might sometimes seem cold and distant, and while these elements did feature in this performance, what was more memorable was the sense of deep affection and understanding the four players showed to the music and to one another.

The incredible sense of calm they brought to the closing bars was something very special indeed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2017, with the headline 'Shining musical camaraderie'. Print Edition | Subscribe