REVIEW: Here’s to more visits from the Henschel String Quartet

Ipswich Chamber Music Society, Ipswich School, Saturday, January 22

ON paper, the programme chosen by the Henschel String Quartet looked rather light-weight. After all, this is a quartet with an international reputation for seriously substantial music-making.

However, I should have had more faith in their choices.

They began with Haydn’s nicknamed “Joke” Quartet, which in other hands can seem a pleasant but trivial piece. In this performance, the urgency and some strongly jagged rhythms made it clear the “joke” only applied to the several false endings of the last movement.

The revelation of the evening was the Quartet No 1 by Ervin Schulhoff. Composed in 1924-25 it is a highly dramatic and varied piece with some extraordinary technical effects, not least the ending.

Against a shimmering mesh of harmonics, the cello’s steady heart-beat pauses, restarts, pauses and finally stops. The young composer, a Czech, could not have known of course that he would die of tuberculosis in a Nazi concentration camp.

For the audience, it seemed all the more poignant that Schulhoff’s work lives on.

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Mendelssohn’s richly resonant Quartet in E minor rounded off the concert in a more predictable but satisfying way.

The Henschel’s visitors from Germany, superbly led by Christoph Herschel, are always a pleasure to hear – big-toned and mellow. They have won many admirers in Suffolk as evidenced by the capacity audience. I hope they will make many more return visits.