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Consone Quartet

Young and HIP in Nairn
Saturday 16th October, 2021

When I describe the Consone Quartet as young and HIP, I am using the latter phrase in its technical sense of 'historically informed performers' - they play appropriate period instruments, strung with gut, and use bows and playing techniques also of the period.  As a player of period instruments who tries himself to be as HIP as possible, I do appreciate a group who go the extra mile down the road of authenticity, and when you add to this a youthful energy and a stunning musicality, you have a recipe for a thoroughly enthralling concert.

In keeping with their pursuit of authenticity, the Consone Quartet concentrate on music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and their concert for Music Nairn presented music by Haydn, Schubert and Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn.  The witty and capricious fourth Quartet of Haydn's op 33 set was given extra vigour by the clear, vibrato-free approach and the deft, light bowing of the young players, and it came wonderfully to life.  This was equally true of Fanny Mendelssohn's String Quartet, a work which hints at the sparkling musical career which Felix's elder sister might have enjoyed.  Her Quartet is full of idiomatic details, including the unexpected opening Adagio, the accomplished fugue which springs spontaneously out of the Allegretto, her homage to Bach, and the quirky Romanze and Finale, which betray a rich and distinctive musical imagination. 

The Quartetsatz D703, which opened the second half, is in a sense Schubert's 'Unfinished Quartet' – extraordinary how the composer could bear to lay aside music of such character and accomplishment, and tragic that we are deprived of three movements of equal genius, or perhaps this was precisely the problem. Not easy perhaps for him to match this beguiling movement with music of the same superlative standard.

Felix Mendelssohn's op 44 Quartets, with the first of which the Consone Quartet finished their concert, date from 1837-8, a period of idyllic happiness for the newly-married composer.  It is a work of compelling lyricism, towering passion and sheer ecstasy, ending in a thrilling saltarello.  Again, period bows danced lightly across gut strings in a wonderful evocation of the early 19th-century.  The pursuit of authenticity in music can easily be portrayed as dully academic, but at its best it is exactly the opposite, bringing the music vividly to life.  In response to an enthusiastic ovation from a capacity audience, the Consone Quartet gave us a charming encore of an arrangement for string quartet of one of Schumann's Pictures from the East.


Reviewed by: D James Ross

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