A string quartet of real quality

Elias Quartet, Alnwick Music Society Concert, Alnwick Playhouse, Saturday

THE Elias Quartet gave us a series of performances to satisfy the sternest critic.

Sara and Marie Bitlloch, Donald Grant and Martin Saving played Haydn, Beamish and Beethoven.

The Haydn Quartet (opus 20 no.2) was beautifully played, but the two real gems were the new Sally Beamish work, Reed Stanzas (Quartet no.3), written especially for the Elias Quartet, commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and first performed as part of the BBC Proms Chamber Music Series in July, and the late Beethoven Quartet opus 130 with ‘Grosse Fuge’.

A packed Playhouse audience heard Donald Grant (second violin) begin the Beamish work offstage with a haunting Scottish lament.

Gradually, he came on to stage, and took his seat, while the players evoked an empty and lonely landscape of reedbeds, with the noises of birdcalls, insects and the ever-present wind. The music was, in some ways, reminiscent of the world of Sibelius and the vastness of Finland’s forests and tundra. As with much contemporary classical music, it needs several hearings to reveal its deeper meaning and hidden beauties.

The Beethoven was introduced by Sara Bitlloch (first violin) and her words added immeasurably to the understanding of the piece.

The late quartets are among the greatest of chamber music, ‘holy ground’ to those who know and love them.

The Elias Quartet is undertaking The Beethoven Project, as they learn, play and discuss all 17 of the Master’s quartets.

That commitment certainly showed in their performance; quicksilver technique, unanimity of attack, good intonation, and profound interpretation was theirs.

We listened transfixed to the Cavatina movement and when it came to the Gross Fuge, not only the four players but we also were on the edge of our seats as they strove to ‘ride the tiger’ of this amazing work, the original finale to the quartet but replaced because of its technical difficulty.

Once again, Alnwick is privileged and should be proud that music of this quality is being offered by musicians of such calibre.

In a world of much confusion, hardship and drabness, we are indeed fortunate.

MARTIN GILLHAM