Not even close

Given the choice, I prefer hearing a good string quartet play to almost any other concert-going.

When we lived in Sheffield, we were spoilt by being able to go to see the Lindsays in their prime (and we also got to see other quartets visiting the series of concerts they organized, from the likes of the Tokyo Quartet, down to new young ensembles just starting out). Coming to Cambridge we missed all that a great deal. We tried early on going to see the Endellion, the quartet in residence here, but really didn’t enjoy the experience. But perhaps we were disposed to find fault and find them over-rated. And perhaps we were too swayed, as well, by the marked differences between the Sheffield occasions and the Cambridge concert in ways that were no fault of the quartet — the much less intimate setting of the concert hall here, the seeming stiffness of the antique audience.

Well, a number of years further on, with various people encouraging us to give them another chance, we went to hear the Endellion again last night. The audience was as stiff  as before. And as for the music? … “lacklustre”, said Mrs LogicMatters. You can tell she is kinder than I am.

They played the Haydn Op 33, no. 1, lacklustre indeed at the outset, and only just about getting into it by the last movement. Then Shostakovich’s 8th quartet (which is a quite startling piece, and admittedly their best effort of the night — but Mrs LM had heard the Takacs Quartet play this quartet while we were in NZ, and she thought them in an entirely different class). Then after the interval the First Rasumovsky. Sigh. This was really pretty thin and unconvincing stuff (especially from the leader), with even the aching slow movement quite failing to grip the soul. If they’d been a recording they’d have been switched off long before the end.

Or is this unfair? I’ve just been listening again to the Vegh Quartet playing the Beethoven; heart-stopping eloquence. And within reach I’ve stunning recordings by the Busch Quartet and the Hungarian Quartet too, and equally stunning newer recordings by the Lindsays in two versions and the Takacs (not to mention three or four other pretty good versions). So is it that, those paradigms having become so  familiar, I’ve just become primed to expect almost impossibly much from a live concert? (Does the easy availability of the best performances of the last seventy or more years tend to spoil our ability to enjoy anything but the extraordinary?)

No, I really don’t think it is that at all. I’ve been, for example, to concerts by young quartets who perhaps have quite a way to go, yet which have been just wonderful — where you are swept along for a couple of hours by their vision of the music, by their intense desire to communicate with their audience, by the sense of a shared journey. But last night was not even close to that.

The Endellion remained at a distance, then bowed stiffly in their tail coats, and walked off-stage just leaving me deeply disappointed.

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6 Responses to Not even close

  1. Paolo says:

    Do you like the Arditti Quartet? It’s by far my favorite quartet for contemporary classical, at least when Garth Knox and Rohan de Saram were part of the team. I don’t listen to much classical-classical, tough…

  2. Raymond White says:

    High marks for the Arditti and LaSalle Quartets. For Mozart and Haydn the Quatuor Mosaïques recordings are very exciting. The Fine Arts Quartet’s Bartok recordings are fine. For a sublime listening experience the try the Julliard String Quartet’s vinyl recording of Schönberg’s 1st String Quartet. The Vegh and Talich Beethoven Quartet CD recordings are high on my list of favorites. The Budapest Quartet’s vinyl Beethoven recordings are tops for me. But then there’s nothing finer than vinyl.

    • Peter Smith says:

      I fully agree about Quator Mosaïques. I’ve been wondering too about buying the Budapest Beethoven (the 1951/2 recordings transcribed for CDs) … though first on my list is to get the rest of the Takacs cycle!

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