Coull Quartet review


Helen Martin Studio, Warwick Arts Centre *****

It was a sad privilege to be part of a packed audience for the last-ever concert from the Coull Quartet as Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Warwick. Though there have been some changes in personnel over the 43 years of this relationship, the Quartet has built for itself an enviable sense of empathy and trust. These musicians make this sense of four playing as one look easy, but indeed it is not, and comes from years of attunement and mutual understanding.
And even after all these years the Coull plays with a bright-eyed enthusiasm, obvious from the very opening of an incisive and alert account of Beethoven's F major Quartet. Op.18 no.1 The approach to the first movement's recapitulation had inexorable momentum, the adagio flowed, never overladen with spurious significance, and the turns and flourishes of the finale were accomplished with unflashy unanimity.
Then came a true wonder and joy, the Second Quartet of Michael Tippett. There was a wonderful madrigalian busy-ness in the opening movement (shades of the near-contemporaneous Concerto for Double String Orchestra), voice-leading so subtly achieved, dynamics expressively observed.
The fugal Andante reminded us of the Beethoven (whom Tippett adored) of the late quartets, and we moved eventually to a finale whose conclusion was deeply satisfying as all the activity came to rest on a comforting chord of F-sharp major.
Where the Tippett was sinewy, Mendelssohn's E minor Quartet Op.44 no.2 was full and rich, the Coull fully sympathetic to the first movement's almost symphonic expansiveness, where we hear tantalising hints of the Violin Concerto, the Octet, and the Bee's Wedding (Mendelssohn's voice had a lingua franca all its own).
The scherzo stopped the heart with an eloquent viola solo just before the end, the andante flowed and avoided lapsing into sentimentality, and the finale was busy in its figurations, brilliantly encompassed.
The encore as the Coull said a fond farewell to Warwick University was familiar to me, but I couldn't remember what it was, and, although the players had been keen to introduce their scheduled offerings, this remained unidentified. I think it was Schubert, but I wouldn't put my house on it.
Christopher Morley

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