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Exquisite Finesse

A concert by the Elias Quartet,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


The Elias Quartet last visited Derby Chamber Music in 2005 under their former name, the Johnston Quartet. They were impressive then; they were even more so this time (Derby Chamber Music, Multi-Faith Centre, University of Derby, UK, 16 March 2007).

Their delightfully unhackneyed programme began with Contrapunctus 1 and Contrapunctus 9 from Bach's The Art of Fugue. They conveyed a lucid command of the counterpoint, allied to a firm grasp of exactly where the music was going.

György Kurtág's 6 Moments Musicaux was written for the 2005 International String Quartet Competition in Bordeaux, and has quickly been taken up by a number of ensembles. The Elias Quartet worked on the music with the composer himself, and it showed. Only performers thoroughly inside the music could have produced playing of such concentration and intensity. In the fragile ending of the second piece, 'Footfalls', they even managed to suggest the music continuing after the last note had sounded.

In a change to the advertised programme (necessitated through illness), the quartet produced a well-rounded account of Beethoven's F minor Quartet, Op 95. It's easy to be fixated on the work's extraordinary concision and blunt energy, and there was certainly no sense of being short-changed in this respect. But they also found space for a deeply expressive account of the second movement. The playing had an eloquent warmth and richness and, in the transition to the third movement, a superb command of timing.

An exemplary performance of Debussy's Quartet ended the evening. The outer movements were rhythmically incisive without sounding unduly strenuous, the pizzicato textures of the scherzo were both immaculate and energised with a fine sense of fantasy, while in the slow movement every expressive detail was coaxed gently into place with the most exquisite finesse.

Copyright © 24 March 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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