Review: Endellions

JOE CONWAY: ‘The sonorities were rich and the energy levels high as all five players went full pelt for the final summation.’

Beethoven Endellion Haydn Joe Conway Oscar Perks viola west road

Endellion String Quartet

5th May 7.30pm at West Road Concert Hall. £20/£18/£10

The Endellion String Quartet's concert and their 2009/10 Cambridge season came to an end in a blaze of glory on Wednesday night. The sonorities were rich and the energy levels high as all five players went full pelt for the final summation.  "Five players?" I hear you saying. That's right, five players. "But a string quartet?" Please keep reading. All will be revealed.

It was no surprise that such a dynamic conclusion earned a rapturous response from the full house at West Road. And there's no doubt either that the Endellions have a great rapport with the loyal clientele that has been carefully built up over the years. You could sense this not only in the prolonged applause, but in the air of keen anticipation before the concert started. Not to mention the little gasps of appreciation that greeted the perfectly realised endings of some of the movements in quartets by Haydn and Beethoven before the interval.

Yet in the midst of this atmosphere of appreciation and enjoyment there was just one cause for concern. The Endellions are one of three professional classical music groups with residencies at the university, yet students were extremely thin on the ground for this concert. Is there anything that can be done to help them break the ice and come along?

Personally I think the Endellions are doing what they can. In order to attract more student involvement they have a policy of choosing an undergraduate musician to participate in their final concert each season. Which explains the five players who ended the programme so spectacularly with a sizzling performance of Mendelssohn's Quintet in B flat. (There you go, I said all would be revealed).

Oscar Perks is an outstanding second year music student at Caius who was invited to join the Endellions for this concert. Probably best known as leader of the Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra, on this occasion Oscar was playing the viola rather than the violin and walked onstage looking at home in the surroundings and at ease with the players. He told me later that they'd been extremely encouraging and supportive so that he felt totally integrated into the group. 

I asked if he'd felt overawed by the experience of playing with such a well-established quartet but Oscar explained that for him it was a question of team work, with everyone having an important role to play. He'd also had plenty of time to get to know the Endellions, having had three rehearsals with them in London and another in Cambridge that day.

As I've suggested the results were spectacular, with the Quintet being easily the most vibrant and enjoyable work on the programme. Any fears that the extra viola might create problems of balance were dispelled from the word go, as leader Andrew Watkinson played the onward-and-upward main theme like a man inspired. Oscar's first important solo came in the mellow second theme of the work, and the music simply went from strength to strength till it reached its barn-storming conclusion.

And although it would have been great to see more of Oscar's mates there to support him, one mustn't discount the pleasure that the performance gave to the hundreds of people who were there to witness it.