With only Nikolai Demidenko's Gala Recital on Sunday 10th April remaining, the recital by the Vardanyan Quartet marked the end of Haddington Concert Society's 2010/11 “Music Close Up” season. The only single-gender ensemble I've seen in two seasons of concerts, the quartet opened with Haydn's String Quartet in D Major, Op. 64 No. 5 'The Lark'. As the title suggests, soaring melody characterised the opening movement, casting the first violin as much in the role of soloist as ensemble member. The light touch of this movement was continued throughout the Adagio and Minuet and, only in the closing Vivace, was the elegance typical of Haydn replaced by more furious counterpoint, driving The Lark towards its conclusion with Earthbound panache.

It felt like a nice touch of programming that the change of gear in the Haydn finale pointed the way to the the more full sound of Grieg's Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27. As one might expect of a quartet written 88 years after the Haydn, the harmonic language was much more dense and romantic. However, the sense of increased substance was as much to do with overall length. Each movement containing a slow introduction followed by more animated material, the piece felt more like eight movements than the traditional four. The excellent programme notes touched upon Grieg's determination to shake off the mantle of miniaturist by mastering larger forms. This struggle revealed itself in the sectionalised nature of some of the writing. However, the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic passion of the piece would incline any listener to forgive Grieg any battle fatigue in the war of organic versus flat-pack. More than anything, this piece, close on the heels of the Haydn, allowed us to experience the massive stylistic and expressive range of this impressive, young quartet.

The sole work in the second half, Schumann's Piano Quintet in Eb, Op. 44, was outstandingly performed. The addition of the excellent Sophie Warwick, on the Society's Bösendorfer grand piano, seemed to turn the quartet into a small orchestra. Obviously an excellent pianist from within the first few seconds of the opening movement, she is also a very sensitive and expressive chamber musician, switching effortlessly between the roles of soloist, accompanist and ensemble member. I felt the already impressive cohesion of the quartet to reach new heights in this setting. The reaction of the audience, and the remarks of those to whom I spoke after the concert, suggested that I wasn't alone in this impression.

The Haddington Concert Society has an impressive track record of promoting young musicians. In an age when the relevance of classical music is regularly challenged, it was especially moving to hear top class young musicians resonate across the ages with Schumann, who penned this masterpiece at the relatively young age of 32. I look forward to following the fortunes of these excellent musicians.