Entitled 'Youth', this programme focussed on the formative years of four composers; projecting forward from the chosen works one sees variously, a predictable compositional colossus, an unforeseeable change of direction and, in one case, an unknowable but surely promising future.

© Andy Catlin
© Andy Catlin

Despite the numbering in its opus number, Beethoven's 1798/99 Quartet in D Major, Op.18 no.3 was the first of the set of six to be composed. Opening with the interval of a minor seventh (like Bernstein's Somewhere) resulted in a dream theme as regards our following its fortunes in contrapuntal development. Indeed the opening Allegro gets straight to it and the Edinburgh Quartet picked up and ran with this music. Balance across the four musicians ensured that the truly democratic quartet idiom, which Beethoven inherited from Haydn, spoke to us clearly. The tender melody and counter-melody of the Andante con moto were nicely delivered by Tristan Gurney and Gordon Bragg on 1st and 2nd Violins respectively. The violins also featured in some very brisk work in the Allegro, a dance movement with some arresting application of the brakes. The closing Presto upped the tempo ante even more. Reminiscent in odd moments of the Mexican Hat Dance, it also featured some wonderfully played counterpoint whose harmony was simply lovely.

A debonair and quietly confident Tom Harrold approached the stage to tell us about his Silent Shores, an Edinburgh Quartet/Creative Scotland commission. He described the image of a mist-shrouded Isle of Arran - not a description of the piece but more of the point of departure in a creative process whose workings defy description. A single movement of three adjoined sections, it contrasted atmospheric outer sections with a more rhythmically assertive centre. The misty opening mood was established with harmonics and pizzicato before Gurney gradually unfolded a beautifully played keening melody whose wide intervals seemed to echo Beethoven's opening. Its extensive use of the minor 3rd, lent a now bluesy, now folky feel. The pleasantly dissonant accompaniment intensified, alternating between sustained and stabbing chords. Transition to the more energetic middle was nicely managed and I was delighted by the unmetered nature of the dance. Mark Bailey's cello switched dramatically from heavy metal bare fifths to a pizzicato bass feel underpinning Fiona Winning's gripping viola solo moment. There then followed the most inspired choice in this pot pourri of independent lines - unison! When the baleful opening returned, both violins scaled stratospherically high registers. Throughout this instantly captivating work I sensed an unmistakable yet impossible to qualify Scottishness. Later examining young Harrold's extensive Soundcloud oeuvre, I was delighted to note that he plays in a ceilidh band. He had mentioned how proud he was to have the Edinburgh Quartet première this work and one could hear why in this warmly received performance. I look forward to revisiting the work.

If you want to triumph when setting a round of 'guess the composer' then I recommend Webern's 1905 Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement). Not just tonal, it is knee-weakeningly romantic and the Edinburgh Quartet clinched the mood here, stopping well short of sentimentalism. 25-year-old Webern aided this with, for example, cross-rhythm pizzicato which oxygenated the wide-ranging opening theme. The work's other memorable melody is very similar to the 'time to go home' theme from the BBC's Andy Pandy. Valediction must be inherent in the notes as, following some delicate con sordino moments and wonderful solo viola and cello work, it closes the movement. This work's timeline strikes me as sad; 61-year old Webern died 17 years before its première.

This finely conceived and executed programme ended with its most youthful voice: 18-year-old Mendelssohn's 1827 String Quartet No 2 in A minor, Op.13. Its compositional command renders this almost impossible to believe. There's the supremely proficient counterpoint in which lovers of Mendelssohn delight but almost as striking is the opening of the third movement, Intermezzo (Allegretto con moto) which opts rather for a simple, old-world language – almost a stately dance. This lightness of mood was impressively captured. The closing Presto, which follows without break, boasts almost operatic drama with an intense recitativo opening and very energised playing which highlighted the Edinburgh Quartet's turbo-charged virtuosity. The highlight, for me, was the intensely felt Adagio non lento whose slowly unfolding drama was here conveyed with magnificent pacing. The quartet brought everything to bear in this gripping movement: balance, dynamics, articulation, lyricism, ensemble and, above all, a shared vision of musical architecture.

This fine concert ended with what Martin Amis would term a blow in 'the war against cliché'. No hot-headed youthful bravado here; following a fiery unison passage, the work simply evaporated into the ether. This was very fine playing!

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