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Quietly Compelling

The Coull Quartet plays
Haydn, Shostakovich and Beethoven,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Sometimes I wonder whether we have yet got Haydn properly in focus. His wit and urbanity still seems to mislead some people into treating him as just a fluffy lightweight, good for the warm-up slot but not for the main substance of a concert. But going to the other extreme won't do either. The Coull Quartet (Derby Chamber Music, Multi-Faith Centre, University of Derby, UK, 20 October 2006) sounded as though it was trying to contradict the fluffy image by giving the C major Quartet Op 74 No 1 an almost Brahmsian gravitas. But for all the elegant negotiation of key-changes in the first and third movements and the admirably sprightly tempo in the finale, it all sounded a bit effortful and unsmiling.

Shostakovich's 8th Quartet began well, with a fine sense of brooding, but the quick second and third movements lacked a sense of living on the edge; the quotation from Piano Trio No 2 needed more of a sense of barely-suppressed hysteria. It was only in the two final movements that the performance really got under the music's skin, with a quietly compelling account of the muted-string recap of the Quartet's opening.

Beethoven's third 'Razumovsky' Quartet was given a similar kind of furrowed-brow treatment to the Haydn. The second movement was taken at a nicely flowing tempo but required a lighter touch. The heavily over-emphatic cello pizzicato phrases were symptomatic -- as though the player was trying to perform the opening of the second movement of Sibelius's Symphony No 2 single-handed. There were some delightfully neat exchanges in the third movement, but the finale was disappointingly bland, in spite of the energetic playing. There was also some insecure intonation from the leader here and in the second movement.

Copyright © 24 October 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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