Review: Castalian String Quartet, Buxton International Festival

This young quartet has already built a strong reputation for elegant, well-defined playing and so this performance to a full St John’s Church in Buxton, was much anticipated.

The reception at the end of an hour’s electrifying playing showed that expectations were fulfilled. The only disappointment could have been that a Haydn quartet (for which the Castalian has rave reviews) was dropped from the announced programme because there was not time enough.

This meant that the programme began with Fanny Mendelssohn’s quartet. Fanny found it difficult to be taken seriously as a musician and composer during her short lifetime. Her reputation is now secure and this quartet is a fine work. Composed in 1834, by which time she was married and had a son, the quartet ranges across moods – being at times lyrical and introspective but concludes gloriously.

Beethoven’s three Op 59 quartets were commissioned by Count Razumovsky in 1806 and they were published two years later. It was immediately apparent that with these works Beethoven had taken quartet playing beyond the range of most amateur players and many found the structure and writing daunting.

More than 200 years later the Razumovsky quartets continue to make demands of the listener. The No 2 is, perhaps, the most straightforward. There are early elements characteristic of the ‘Sturm und Drang’ movement but at other times Beethoven seems to be at his most lyrical. In the third movement we hear a Russian folk tune before the vigorous final movement which is much more familiar in terms of structure and style. This quartet has been described as ‘schizophrenic’ and there is an uncertainty about it.

The Castalian String Quartet is in much demand but Buxton audiences will want to hear them again. Let’s hope that that wish is granted.

by Keith Savage