The young players of the Elias Quartet are currently engaged in playing a complete cycle of the Beethoven string quartets in a number of major cities. We were given a mighty sample in their Ilkley concert; at first sight a rather demanding programme of early, middle and late period quartets. But such was the commitment of the playing that what we experienced was exhilarating, sometimes moving and always hugely satisfying.
This is not a ‘period’ group and the players took full advantage of the opportunity to project the music with powerful tone and generous use of vibrato and occasional expressive use portamento (slides between notes). The unanimity of their approach was remarkable. Beethoven’s scores are liberally marked with accents and other dynamics and none of these were missed. If occasionally I wondered if this was overdone, checking the score showed me that this was always precisely what the composer had asked for.
Their opening op.18 no.3 quartet immediately captured our attention, the playing was graceful yet so alive, the perpetuum mobile finale deftly played with a sense of fun at the end. Humour is in short supply for most of the op. 95 ‘serioso’ quartet which was given a powerful reading with ferocious attack at the start. The rare truly relaxed moments were expressively played and the sudden brightening of mood at the end totally convincing.
After the interval came the op.130 Quartet, in many ways Beethoven’s most experimental quartet. The opening was eloquently played, the music’s shifting moods so well caught. The ensuing divertimento-like movements were all strongly characterized. Throughout the concert their dynamic range had been huge and in the Cavatina the hushed pianissimo was heart-stopping.
Owing to their agent’s error the advertised Great Fugue was not played, instead we were given the alternative less challenging finale to round off a wonderful evening. The players invited us to go online to www.The Beethoven Project to view a live performance of the original finale. I did so – it’s terrific.