SUNDAY 8th JUNE 2014



Mozart's image as an instinctive wunderkind, churning out music as quickly as he could write it down, is seriously challenged by the self-confessed lifelong struggle he had with the string quartet.  Listening to the perfectly crafted results, it is hard to picture the composer's anguish that underlies the music, and the String Quartet in F major K590, his final essay in the medium, seems supremely confident in tone. The Fejes String Quartet, members of the RSNO string section, gave a decisive account of the work with a strong sense of ensemble and a nicely balanced sound.  The three upper strings play standing up and cellist Rachel Lee uses a podium to bring her instrument to the same elevation, a system which worked extremely well.

In a hot and rather airless Community Centre the musicians had the further distress of coping with spotlights, and in the ensuing Andante and Scherzo by Mendelssohn there were one or two inaccuracies and moments when group cohesion seemed to suffer.  These two works were the last music Mendelssohn wrote under the shadow of the death of his beloved sister Fanny and just before his own premature death at 39. Touchingly he has passed beyond the anger and grief of his previous quartet and instead writes an Andante of serene beauty and a Scherzo, which revisits the Midsummernight's Dream music of his youth.  A later editorial attempt to combine the movements with music from the composer's youth to create a full string quartet has proved largely detrimental to the character of the later music, and the group were wise to detach these pieces and perform them in isolation.

The second half of the concert saw the air vents opened (at the risk of participation from the resident seagulls), and a much more conducive environment allowed the Fejes String Quartet to produce an extremely intense and dynamic performance of Shostakovich's Second String Quartet.  Dating from the years of WWII, the piece opens with a raw allusion to traditional Russian music and throughout seems to tap into a deep national spirit.  The Quartet marks the composer's first fully successful contribution to a medium in which he would come to excel, and the work's ambitious dimensions and high aspirations were fully captured by the Fejes String Quartet.  This is a distinctive group with its own unusual set up and a full and expressive sound, creating the impression of musicians who play for pleasure and have the luxury of selecting music they genuinely love.

D James Ross


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