Edinburgh Quartet leader Tristan Gurney welcomed us by describing how the programme's second work, Schumann's 1842 String Quartet no. 3 Op.41 no. 3, was dedicated not only to the composer of the preceding work, Mendelssohn, but specifically to his Op.44 set.

Edinburgh Quartet © Edinburgh Quartet
Edinburgh Quartet
© Edinburgh Quartet

One common feature mentioned was syncopation, which certainly informed the opening Allegro assai appassionato. The crisp delivery of the interior parts allowed the first violin's theme to soar. This was soon followed by uniform semiquavers for all, conveyed here with a rare mix of vigour and pianissimo. Mendelssohn, the romantic, is rightly much admired for disciplined classical restraint and this was nowhere more evident here than in the well balanced contrapuntal sections which certainly 'drove plot', contributing significantly to the balance between the lyrical and the dramatic.

The Scherzo brimmed with brio. The quartet really captured the movement's joy, conjured by, amongst other things, cello pedal notes and rhythmic play where duple rhythms fixed the ear in this triple metre. This is really a work without an Adagio; the nearest we get is the gentle Andante in the relative major key of G. This 'song without words' was tenderly shaped, the quartet's dynamics following subtly the beautifully crafted harmonic contours.

Following this, the vitality of the closing Presto agitato was all the more bracing. A return to the home key of E minor ensured urgency, later eased by the arrival of a beautifully crafted and played second theme. The span of this melody – nine notes in its first iteration and eleven in its second – left us in no doubt as to its affiliations in Mendelssohn's omnipresent classical/romantic tug-of-war. What I loved most in this movement was the composition and performance of that part of the coda section which, without flagging in any way (au contraire) conveys the idea that the main argument is over, that the end is approaching, but is not quite here yet. Sure enough an unmissable final flourish ensued followed by warm applause.

Despite the Mendelssohnian dedication, Schumann's 1842 String Quartet no. 3 bears some striking contrasts, one of the most conspicuous of which being the way it opens. Mendelssohn's simple key-affirming arpeggio opening is contrasted by Schumann's tonality-obscuring chromaticism and the Edinburgh Quartet marked the difference with that rare and paradoxical style of playing: searching but not lost. The sighing opening theme soon yielded to the most beautiful second theme, initially articulated high on Mark Bailey's cello. This theme, whose rhythmic construction undermines the usual captaincy of beat one, bore no compensating accompaniment but rather one which avoided the beginning of every beat of the triple metre; it was almost like Ska and, stranger to the work, I have to admit my ear was truly thrown for a few seconds. Nothing beats being fixed by the modernity of an old master. The following Assai agitato, a minor key theme and variations, was very nicely shaped, the fiercest playing rightly being reserved for the most anxious harmonies towards the end.

Schumann's study of the string quartet medium, in addition to Mendelssohn's quartets, featured the genre's Holy Trinity: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The impression made on him by late Beethoven imbued the Adagio molto. At the risk of biographical fallacy, I'd have to say that the sensibility captured here by the quartet was a very moving serene stoicism.

The deeply felt introspections of the third movement were blown clear away by the closing Finale: Allegro molto vivace. There was a Hungarian Dance feel to this, albeit with the most astonishingly wrong-footing syncopations which seemed initially to result in alternate bars of five and three beats. This was, of course, mere audio illusion but it really energised the movement which the Edinburgh Quartet dispensed with a fierce joy.

Second Violinist Gordon Bragg, mentioned during the post-performance discussions that the Mendelssohn was a much friendlier, more sympathetic piece; a string player's string writing, falling under the fingers much more readily than the phrases of pianistic Schumann. While the sense of struggle was evident in the Schumann this was purely a matter of artistry in conveying content. I was certainly surprised by this revelation; not for one second did I perceive the Schumann as sounding technically difficult.

Homeward bound, I reflected on the place of serendipity in our digitally streamed age. I was reminded of a quote by Italian writer and publisher Roberto Calasso, "When looking for a book, you may find discover that you were in fact looking for the book next to it." Although I love Schumann, I had attended principally for Mendelssohn's classical-romantic tensions, only to come away with an unsuspected life-long favourite in the Schumann. Such are the rewards of live music.