Sunday mornings don’t get any better than this.
Sunday mornings at the Wigmore Hall are renowned for their unique atmosphere and consistently high quality, but even allowing for that the performances of Haydn and Beethoven by the Elias String Quartet stood as something special. In the case of both, the playing was characterised by beauteous tone in which the underlying cleanness to the sound enabled the textures and nuances to be rendered to stunning effect. Balance across the ensemble was always at a premium so that it rarely occurred to us quite how strong it was because we simply enjoyed the results, which were exceptionally smooth and coherent performances of two great works.
The concert began with Haydn’s String Quartet in F sharp minor, Op. 50 no. 4 of 1787. Sufficient stridency was brought to the opening notes of the Allegro spiritoso to set the tone for the movement. The lines that followed were then able to feel as if they were floating as the way in which the ensemble as a whole joined, and thus complemented, the various solo lines was especially skilful. The Andante was equally exquisite with each player knowing just how much pressure to apply to their individual line so that exactly the right balance in sound was achieved. The third movement was kept on a notably even keel so that it felt sprightly enough without losing an appropriate sense of gravitas, while certain lines were really able to sing. The players then seemed to plumb the depths of the final short movement, but never in a way that weighed it down or ruined its flow.
“…the performances of Haydn and Beethoven by the Elias String Quartet stood as something special”
Many of the same features and strengths of the quartet’s playing were in evidence in Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59 No. 2 ‘Razumovsky’ published in 1808, although they were put to use in different ways to meet the requirements of the piece. The bars of silence at the start of the Allegro were just as important as any note that was played as the short phrases that fell between them set the standard from which the sound could then move forward with a rushing intensity. The playing in the Molto adagio that followed had a beautifully languid quality in which the intricate lines of the first violin met with the longer bowing of the other players. Those moments of greater intensity ‘cut in’ to great effect, while the first violin’s ‘singing’ line and the ‘brushing’ effects rendered by the various instrumentalists were also effectively managed.
The third movement really illustrated just how together the ensemble was. The varying rhythms played by the different members at the start of the Allegretto meant there was no leeway for inaccuracies, and yet the playing was so tight that it belied the skill that went behind making it so. The final movement then maintained the right sense of momentum so that there was a feeling of the music powering through to the end, even though all of the nuances along the way received their due attention.
For the encore, first and second violinists, Sara Bitlloch and Donald Grant, swapped places so that Grant could lead the quartet in an arrangement of a Gaelic lullaby from his home village. With its title roughly translating as ‘I’m asleep, please don’t wake me’, on paper it almost sounded like an ‘anti-lullaby’ in that they are normally designed to make children who are currently awake sleep. However, it could have reflected the desire of the singer to see the child slumber that deeply, and either way it sounded very beautiful.
• For details of all of the Elias String Quartet’s recordings and future events visit its website.
• For details of all upcoming Sunday morning concerts at the venue visit the Wigmore Hall website.