United Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2021  – Haydn, Schubert: Goldmund Quartet. Old College Quad, Edinburgh, 19.8.2021. (SRT)
Haydn – String Quartet in B minor Op.33, No.1
Schubert – String Quartet No.14 in D minor, ‘Death and the Maiden’
I had never come across the Munich-based Goldmund Quartet before this concert, but I will definitely keep my ears open for them in future. Their EIF debut contained two solid pillars of the classical repertoire, but played with freshness and excitement as well as deep musicianship.
Haydn’s B minor quartet comes squarely from his middle period of quartet composition, so he had not yet hit the heights that he would hit a decade later with the Opus 76 set. Consequently, while it’s a work of minor key drama, it isn’t the height of storm and stress and it is a mistake to treat is as such. The Goldmunds knew that, and played it for what it was: a dynamic essay in feeling that never goes particularly close to the edge.
They played with fairly spare textures but with a rich enough, Romantic sound, which achieved a very effective balance. The drama of the first movement consequently felt paced with delicacy and forthrightness, but the stress wasn’t underlined too much and the ensuing lightness of tone worked really well. The Scherzo was delicate and direct, while the slow movement was almost incongruously light-hearted before the darker central section. The scampering finale was played with impressive precision, building up an impressive head of steam before the curt final chords.
Both the quartets on this programme deal in anguish, but while Haydn appears to consider it from a refined distance, Schubert plunges into the midst of it. Consequently, if the Goldmunds’ Haydn was refined, their Schubert was intense and dramatic. The opening chords, hard and vibrato-less, set up a first movement of intense drama, the running semiquavers like a circling beast of prey. The Scherzo was strident and powerful, and the desperate tarantella of the finale seemed to circle in an inescapable vortex.
For all this exciting drama, though, the heart of the Goldmunds’ playing came, as it should, in the variations of the slow movement. The opening theme, and each of the ensuing variations, was shaped like a dynamic arch, moving from quiet contemplation to an intense climax before receding. This careful shaping made for first rate drama, and each variation was very effectively coloured, be it the sense of being lost in the first, the anger of the third, the fleeting sweetness of the fourth or the anxiety of the fifth.
It is those moments I will remember most, and they also came out in their encore, a wilting, poignant performance of Puccini’s Crisantemi. Tellingly, they had a second encore up their sleeve: I didn’t recognise it but, with its easy rhythm and stamping feet, it sounded like a Bavarian folk song. A little incongruous after the emotional heights we had just hit, but it ended the concert on a note of adrenaline, and it showed that the quartet had clearly enjoyed their debut as much as the audience did.
The 2021 Edinburgh International Festival takes place until Sunday 29th August in venues across the city. For full details click here.