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Classical Review: Endellion Plays Pleasant but Uninspiring Concert

British Quartet Lacks Passion and Inspiration of Previous Guest Artists

By Kelley Rivoire

Endellion String Quartet

MIT Guest Artist Series

Kresge Auditorium

Friday, Oct. 28, 2005, 8 p.m.

In the second installment of MIT’s Guest Artist Series, the Endellion String Quartet treated concertgoers last Friday at Kresge Auditorium to a program of two classical standbys, complemented by a twentieth century quartet. Though the quartet started with a bland, inconsistent rendition of Haydn’s “String Quartet Opus 20, No. 2,” they seemed to gel through the second selection, Sir Michael Tippett’s “String Quartet No. 2.” The concluding piece, Mozart’s “Viola Quintet in G Minor,” for which they were joined by Professor Marcus Thompson on viola, drew warm applause to conclude a pleasant, but not spectacular evening.

The quartet members (Violinists Andrew Watkinson and Ralph de Souza, Violist Garfield Jackson, and Cellist David Waterman), dressed snappily in matching blue shirts and black pants, began their performance with the Haydn, composed in 1772, one of the composer’s six “Sun” quartets. Though the quartet played with a bright sound, the players couldn’t seem to match each other’s character. Differences in articulation, most noticeably between the lyrical, connected playing of the first violinist and the separated, marked style of the cellist, were large enough to be distracting. In the rest of the piece, the quartet continued to struggle to blend properly, with articulation and note lengths noticeably different, and intonation also seeming a notch below perfect.

In next piece, composed in the 1940s by British composer Sir Michael Tippett early in his career, the quartet started to come together. Tippett’s rich harmonies and textures, vaguely reminiscent of works by one of his composition teachers, Ralph Vaughan Williams, were a good match for the quartet’s style. The second movement, beginning and ending with pure tones sans vibrato, built a dramatic and effective emotional climax, immediately followed by a fast and furious Presto in which the quartet came alive with vibrancy.

The quartet capped off the night with the Mozart quintet. In celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth in 2006, Thompson is joining string quartets in the Guest Artist Series, playing a different viola quintet in each. Thompson fit well with the quartet, blending perfectly with the quartet’s violist, Garfield Jackson, in passages where the two parts joined forces. Though in a few passages, mostly in the first movement, the balance between parts seemed a bit off, the quartet played well, with nicely shaped cello solos in the third movement and a lovely final movement.

The Mozart seemed to be the most appreciated piece of the evening, with the audience responding receptively, but the performance failed to earn either the standing ovation or the encore given to the St. Petersburg Quartet in their spectacular performance in the previous Guest Artist Series concert. The next installment of the series will bring the Biava String Quartet, along with Thompson, in February. I hope for a performance of the quality given by the St. Petersburg Quartet, rather than that of the Endellion, which though enjoyable, failed to inspire.