REVIEW: The Chilingirian String Quartet, Alnwick Music Society, September 23, Guest Hall, Alnwick Castle.
There have been many excellent string quartets in this country – The Grillers and the Amadeus from the 1950s, the Gabrielis, the Lindsays and more recently the Maggini.
The Chilingirian String Quartet, led by its founder Levon Chilingirian, has been at the forefront of British-based quartets since they were acclaimed following their formation in 1971.
Some personnel may have changed over the years, but Levon is still at the helm of a superlative ensemble.
I met them personally when they performed as part of the Newbury Spring Festival in the mid/late 1980s.
Their concert with us revealed intense concentration, warmth of tone and an impressively extended spread of dynamics.
They started with Bartok (Quartet no 4), explaining that it was unusual to do so. It is a dissonant work and difficult to appreciate at first hearing, but their performance of it helped us all to enter into Bartok’s special world. After this, many must have felt that the Haydn Quartet (op.55 no.3) was balm to the soul.
In the second half, we were treated to Beethoven’s great op.59 no.2, where the Chilingirians brought out all the drama of the work.
The lovely adagio is supposed to have come to Beethoven as he gazed at the starlit sky, thinking about the music of the spheres. Apparently he said: “When I contemplate the host of suns...my soul rises to the source of all creation.”
The chorale-like opening theme is beautiful and is followed by a wonderful second melody, making this one of Beethoven’s most profound utterances until we come to the late quartets. It was played to perfection.