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Quartet takes a fifties turn

Written by Liam Rudden, MUSIC REVIEW, Edinburgh Evening News

PRECISE, passionate, full-bodied and sensual. All words that have been used to describe the melodic overtures of The Edinburgh Quartet, one of the longest-established string quartets in the UK and the only ensemble in Scotland exclusively dedicated to the performance and teaching of chamber music.

Formed in 1959 by Professor Sidney Newman, then Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University, the aim was to establish a professional quartet based in the city of Edinburgh.

It is appropriate, therefore, that they have chosen to celebrate their first Queen's Hall series of concerts with newly appointed leader Charles Mutter, by taking a close look at the decade in which they were formed.

The series - which goes under the umbrella title, The Fifties - consists of six concerts each featuring a work from the 1950s paired with one of Haydn's Prussian Quartets op 50 and followed by a major work from the romantic era. It sees Philip Burrin (second violin), Michael Beeston (viola) and Mark Bailey (cello) join Mutter (first violin) at the Clerk Street venue.

Explaining the choice of programmes for the series of concerts, the second of which takes place on Sunday afternoon, Mutter reflects: 'Sorting out the unjustly neglected from the deservedly forgotten among the many quartets written in the 1950s proved a considerable and fascinating task.

'There are a couple of well known names - Shostakovich and Enescu - but neither Britten, Tippet nor Walton wrote quartets during this period, possibly due to the wealth of other talent that was doing so and which we shall be uncovering over the course of the seasom.'

Sunday's programme begins with Haydn's Quartet in E flat Op 50 No 3, followed by Rubbra's Quartet No 2 Op 73 (1950) which has been paired with Brahms' Quartet in B flat Op 67.

Mutter adds: 'The idea for this programme came when we were all in the car driving to a concert, we turned the radio on and there was a symphonic piece which was clearly Brahms, quite familiar and yet we knew it couldn't exist. It turned out to be a masterly orchestration by Rubbra of Brahms' Variations on a Theme of Handel. I think that had they lived in the same era, the two composers would have had a great deal of respect for each other, hence our putting them back to back in this concert.'

It is a formula that proved popular at the first concert of the series earlier this year. Second violin Burrin, says: All the pieces are very different and from contrasting periods. Audiences like that, it allows them to hear the work of a variety of composers.' Such programming also gives the series a wider appeal, he believes - important as the Quartet endeavours to broaden it's audience base.

Burrin continues: 'That is why the programme for our annual Queen's Hall series is so carefully chosen. It's an important part of our calendar and forms the basis of our repertoire for that year.'

And this year, it's not just audiences who are getting excited about the Quartet's choice of pieces. 'Some of these pieces are completely new additions to our established repertoire. Pieces that are rarely played,' says Burrin enthusiastically. 'As a musician that's great because it's always healthy to broaden one's musical experiences.'