Westbourne Music: Edinburgh Quartet

Glasgow Art Club

It’s astonishing to think that all three pieces in the Edinburgh Quartet’s lunchtime programme for Westbourne Music were conceived within a thirty year period – three glorious decades between 1890 and 1920, in which the waning of Romanticism and dawning of modernity jointly fuelled the seismic European fin de siècle spirit. 

In Puccini’s mournful 1890 elegy for string quartet, I Cristantemi, written in a single night apparently in response to the death of his friend, the Duke of Aosta, is a language dripping with languid nostalgia, a lyricism caked in chromatic angst and reflective passion. If it took a moment or two for the Quartet to trigger its natural warmth – to be fair, the heating in a chilly but delightful Glasgow Art Club was on the bung – the end product was one of cloying eloquence, growing intensity and comforting resolve.

It was also a sweet aperitif to the more acerbic tang of Kodaly’s 1918 String Quartet Op 10 No 2, which straddles the nervy cellular obsessiveness of Janacek and the austere folksiness of fellow Hungarian Bela Bartok. This was a performance notable for its heartfelt expressiveness, which was no mean achievement given the sometimes unsettled fragility of its structure and the slightly impersonal harmonic world it occupies. But from the outset, in the interwoven complexities of the opening Allegro, there was a real sense of emotional understanding and dramatic intent. 

All of which prepared the way for the mercurial restlessness of the second movement, a turbulent journey from its rhapsodic opening recitativo and discursive meandering to an Allegro giocoso vitalised by intrepid dance rhythms and folkish charm.

The programme by Westbourne Music’s current resident ensemble ended with the F major String Quartet by Ravel, a supreme fusion of taut classical structure and the liquid lyrical modality of the early 20th century French idiom. It was here that the Edinburgh Quartet found their firmest, most expansive footing. After the fragrant melodic expansiveness of the opening movement, the playful pizzicato of the lively Assez vif hinted of Mediterranean sun and fun. Then the easing of tension, the contemplation, of the slow third movement, before the race to the finish of the Vif et agité, delivered with plenty vim and verve.

The Edinburgh Quartet has been through turbulent times recently with multiple changes of personnel. The signs here, performing in such diverse repertoire, and with illness prompting a brief return to the line-up by former violinist member Tom Hankey, are that they are returning to good musical health.

Ken Walton

Westbourne Music’s Glasgow Concert Series continues on 22 November with singer/songwriter and 2018 BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year, Hannah Rarity. Full details at www.westbournemusic.org