As part of the Endellion String Quartet’s fortieth year, its Turner Sims’s celebrations leapfrogged the centuries. The Haydn perhaps found the players warming up, reserving their focus for things to come. Opus 20/5 is no mere appetiser but a work of special intensity, emotionally gripping. This routine account conjured a world-weary composer who had lost his way, rather than one of the most original thinkers of the eighteenth-century. Insecurities of pitch in the opening movement improved little for the Minuet, but playing of more affection emerged in the Adagio and by the time we reached the marvellously contrapuntal Finale, the musicians had hit their stride – incisive and stirring.
On the evidence of this four-movement String Quartet (2016) – seventeen minutes characterised by searching austerity, frenzied hysteria and brooding introspection that find eventual release in burlesque humour – Evgeny Kissin’s composing career is still largely in its infancy. Yet the grey colours turned a wintry gold for a closing paragraph that, in its hard-won beauty, could have come directly from Shostakovich, as much else.
Sally Beamish’s A Myndin (memory) is a gently nostalgic five minutes’ worth, written following her return from Scotland to England. It’s all beautifully crafted and centres on a curvaceous folksy tune, rooted in Gallic association and expressive yearning, quiet meandering lines supported by drone figures, suggesting emotional journeys past and present, sentimentality without saccharine.
Following the interval there was further tenderness, from Tchaikovsky. Warmth of expression gave outline to the opening themes and exhilarating playing gave bite to the first- movement’s visceral coda. The folk-derived slow movement, Andante cantabile, evoked hearth-side reminiscences – as if the players were sharing a pipe round a Ukrainian log-fire on a winter’s evening –the whole intimate and lovingly shaped. From there to the end, the work’s melody and rustic energy was given vibrant articulation, thrilling in the tumultuous closing pages.