Wednesday 2nd November 2016

Mozart         String Quartet in E flat major, K428

Dvorak        Cypresses (selection)

Beethoven String Quartet in B flat major, Op.130 with Grosse Fugue

The Coull String Quartet is a magnificently seasoned ensemble that has been delighting audiences for over forty years. The group, which still includes two of its founder members, has broadcast and performed in concert halls extensively throughout Europe, the USA, Australia, China, India and the Far East.

Their programme for Ilkley starts with the third of Mozart's Quartets written in homage to Haydn – a set, 'the fruit of long and laborious effort' in which he is mastering the techniques of this new art form – and which won Haydn's applause. The culmination is the third of Beethoven's late quartets – the six movements of this sublime work show Beethoven pushing at the boundaries of what music can do – concluding with the original fugue. Between these masterpieces we can enjoy the simpler, lyrical pleasures of the youthful love songs which Dvořák later adapted for string quartet.


A evening of contrasts at the Ilkley Concert Club

The Coull String Quartet this year celebrate 40 years of playing together and their return to the King’s Hall after 34 years was all the more welcome. The programme was well balanced, matching one of Mozart’s ‘Haydn’ quartets with one of the peaks of the quartet repertoire, Beethoven’s op 130 quartet with its original finale, the Grand Fugue. These two sandwiched four of the delightful miniatures that Dvořák adapted from his early songs and now known as ‘Cypresses’.

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After a slightly shaky start, the Coull Quartet featured some beautiful ensemble playing with each instrument finding its rightful place in the texture. At their best they produced wonderful dark tones in more sombre passages, with crisp articulation where needed particularly from the first violin. The second and third movements of Mozart’s E flat major quartet demonstrated this contrast well, however the speed chosen for the finale led to one or two passages sounding rather rushed.

Dvořák’s delightful and affecting melodies gave a lighter mood to the proceedings and were greeted warmly by the audience. I felt that a less perfect balance, with the vocal line, as played by the first violin, more prominent, might have suited this music better.

Beethoven’s op 130 quartet is a challenge to any group of players and one that the Coull were well able to surmount. Overall this was a convincing performance but perhaps without some of the ecstatic highs and emotional depths that makes a really great one. The fourth movement was particularly fine with a nicely judged rustic lilt. However the tempo of the Cavatina felt too fast so that the broken phrases at its anguished heart failed to convince. There was plenty of vigour in the players attack on the final fugue and some beautiful pianos in the central section but I missed the revelation that can come when what an early critic called ‘incomprehensible … a sort of chinese puzzle’ finally begins to make sense.


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Recommended Recordings



The excellent Cuarteto Casals are well recorded on a fairly new Harmonia Mundi CD-HMC 902186 (full price). The couplings are Mozart’s String Quartets K.387 and K.465. Recordings from the CRD company are readily available again, and with them the Chilingirian Quartet’s performances of the late Mozart Quartets, always among my favourites. CRD 3363 (medium price) contains K.428 and K.458 “Hunt”, and sound quality remains very good.

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These charming pieces are beautifully performed , together with other Dvorák miscellaneous Chamber Music , by the Vlach Quartet Prague on Naxos 8.553375 (medium price). There is a superb bargain 3 CD set from Supraphon, with the Panocha Quartet, which includes the Cypresses, and String Quartets Op.51, 61, 105, 106. The number is SU 40482, and the set costs about the same as one full price CD.


A recent recording from the Elias Quartet, recorded live on 20th. February 2014, has particularly impressed me. Quartets Op.18 No.4, and Op.74 “Harp” complete the 2 disc set from Wigmore Hall Live-WHLIVE 0073-2 (medium price). The recording quality is very good indeed, and audience noise is almost entirely absent. A fantastic bargain from Sony/RCA 88875124582 has the superb Tokyo Quartet performing all the Beethoven Quartets in good sound. The 9 CD set is available for around £10!
Raymond Waud

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