The final leg of Lammermuir Festival's Musical Journey brought us within a few metres of the shore, to the church of St. Andrew Blackadder and to arguably the most challenging programme of the day. Contemplation of the end of life informed each piece and the contrasting circumstances, responses and outcomes could be heard in the music.

Britten's String Quartet No3, Op 4, a five movement work, was a substantial undertaking for a man already weakened by heart surgery and stroke. It was to be his last major work and was premièred two weeks after his death. At its centre is an elegiac movement entitled, Solo. The soaring 1st violin part, excellently rendered by the Navarra Quartet's Magnus Johnston, captured the spirit of the movement – an unresisted drifting from community. This movement is surrounded by two very animated ones and the vigorous playing of these young musicians, in their firth quartet of the day, was captivating. The haunting, final movement, Recitative and Passacaglia, bears the subtitle La Serenissima which is charged with a two-fold reference – Britten's beloved Venice, where he completed the composition, and serenity. A master of paradox, Britten sustains a core of mild tension throughout the movement, which only truly subsides as the piece nears its end. He is quoted as saying, “I want the work to end with a question.” Three final, ascending chords ensured the desired interrogative quality and, fittingly, there were several seconds of pregnant pause before the audience expressed their appreciation of this fine performance. I was impressed by the quartet's feeling for ensemble throughout this very varied piece, particularly violist, Simone van der Giessen. She appeared to embody the perfect chamber music state of mind which might be described as a relaxed hyper-vigilance. She knew whom to watch and listen for - and when – and seemed thoroughly to enjoy the ensemble experience. I imagine that the numerous young musicians in the audience would have learned a great deal simply by seeing her in action.

A centenary tribute to Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) ended the first half. Libby Crabtree (soprano) and Emily Hoile (harp) joined the Navarra Quartet and it felt right to have all six musicians who had contributed to this ambitious, expressive day perform together. Menotti's short Nocturne for soprano, harp and string quartet was written as an elegy for Alice Tully, benefactress of New York's Lincoln Centre, where the work was premièred. The music underlined the composer's own English text, reflecting on life, death and rebirth, and suggested a calm acceptance of the end. This contrasted with some of the edgy beauty of the Britten. Perhaps I simply wasn't ready to leave that transfixing inquietude behind but, lovely as this performance was, I found it all a little sweet.

Beethoven's String Quartet in A minor, Op132 shares certain features with Britten's: both pieces have five movements – the central one of which has an otherworldly quality; both composers had experienced health problems around the time of writing; both sought a change of location where their respective works were finished. The significant difference is that Beethoven recovered from his ailment – a recurring intestinal complaint which he had feared life-threatening. The musical outcome of this is the central Molto Adagio – andante, which bears the subtitle, Heiliger Dankgesang (A Convalescent's Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity). This is the most extraordinary music. Its strange transcendence has diminished very little 186 years after its composition. Happily there are two episodes where reverence gives way to more joyous expression – almost as though Beethoven felt the least he could do in gratitude would be to kick his heels a little, as evidence of feeling better. Experiencing all five movements played live one realises what a massive work this is. Moreover, the feeling of how far Beethoven had developed over his life had become clear during the course of our day with the Navarra Quartet. The miles were few but the interior voyage was enormous. To finish such a day with a moving performance of a titanic work like Op 132 was a tremendous gift to those who had stayed the course with the quartet. The admiration for what these musicians had achieved was unmistakable and the lingering farewells were those of companions at the end of a long and meaningful journey.