Elias String Quartet

About the Quartet

Sara Bitlloch, Donald Grant violins
Simone van der Giessen viola
Marie Bitlloch cello

The Elias String Quartet take their name from Mendelssohn's oratorio, Elijah, of which Elias is its German form, and have quickly established themselves as on of the most intense and vibrant quartets of their generation. The Quartet was formed in 1998 at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where they worked closely with the late Dr. Christopher Rowland. They also spent a year studying at the Hochschule in Cologne with the Alban Berg quartet. Between 2005 and 2009 they were resident String Quartet at Sheffield’s “Music in the Round” as part of Ensemble 360, taking over from the Lindsay Quartet. They are now ensemble in residence at the RNCM and regularly go back there to teach and perform. This season they present Beethoven quartet cycles in Winston-Salem, NC; New York, NY; Cedar Falls, IA; and Houston, TX.

In 2009 the Elias was chosen to participate in BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists’ scheme and was also a recipient of a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. With the support of the Trust, the Elias Quartet mounted “The Beethoven Project”: studying and performing all of Beethoven’s string quartets as cycles whilst sharing their experience through a special website (www.thebeethovenproject.com) and social media. The project culminated with a cycle at Wigmore Hall, all six concerts recorded live for the Wigmore live label.

The Quartet is steadily building a recording catalogue that has been met with widespread critical acclaim. They have recorded the Schumann and Dvorak piano quintets with Jonathan Biss, a Britten Quartets disc for Sonimage, a Mendelssohn disc for ASV Gold and Schumann string quartets for Outhere. Their two mixed programme recordings for Wigmore Live were praised unanimously, the first winning a BBC Music Magazine Newcomers award. Most recently, they have recorded the complete Beethoven quartets live at Wigmore Hall, released in four volumes to great critical acclaim. BBC Music Magazine described their performance as “simply astounding, in the freshness, intensity, assurance, and seeming spontaneity of their playing.”


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Tuesday, March 21 Program

String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 127

  • Maestoso-Allegro
  • Adagio, ma non troppo e molto cantabile
  • Scherzando. Vivace -- Presto
  • Finale: allegor con moto

String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1 "Rasumovsky"

  • Allegro
  • Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando
  • Adagio molto e mesto-Theme Russe (Allegro)


Notes About the Show
Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 127

In November 1822 Beethoven received a commission to compose “one, two or three new quartets”, from Prince Nikolas Galitzin, an important artistic patron in St Petersburg and a passionate admirer of his music. Beethoven promised to have the first quartet ready by the following March, at the latest; but he had reckoned without the amount of work he still had to do on his Missa solemnis and the Ninth Symphony, and in the event he didn’t turn his attention to Galitzin’s series of quartets until the second half of 1824. Perhaps he was prompted to do so by the fact that it was Galitzin who organized the first complete performance of the Missa solemnis, which took place in St Petersburg on 18 April of that year. During the remaining four years of his life Beethoven concentrated exclusively on the string quartet, producing not just three new works, but five. (Prince Galitzin’s series was followed by two uncommissioned quartets, Opp.131 & 135.)

Among Beethoven’s late string quartets the first work in the series, Op.127, and the last, Op.135, are alone in being cast in a traditional four-movement mould. Beethoven had, however, contemplated a more extended plan for Op.127. His sketches show that it was at one stage to have included a piece called ‘La Gaîté’ as its second movement; and that the finale was to have been preceded by a slow introduction beginning in the distant key of E major. Remarkably enough, it was the light-hearted theme of the ‘Gaîté’ movement, initially conceived in the form of a high-lying cello part, that Beethoven transformed into the sublime variation theme of the work’s slow

With the single exception of Op.130, all of Beethoven’s late string quartets have a slow movement in the form of a serene set of variations. In Op.127 the variation-theme itself is shared between first violin and cello – a layout Beethoven maintains at the start of the first variation. The second variation, in a more flowing tempo, is an ornate dialogue between the two violins, while the third, in a radiant E major, is at once more tranquil and more condensed - the music now singing with greater breadth (its stillness thrown into relief by the motion of the preceding variation), but the melody shorn of its quasi-repeats. As this variation draws to a close, the music sinks back into its original key and metre for a further full variation, after which the piece progresses in a single arc, suspended for a moment only by the passing shadow of a fragmentary variation in the minor, to its close.

The scherzo begins with a flourish tapped out by the pizzicato strings. Its scoring is as rich as that of the opening movement’s initial chords, though the effect of this toy fanfare could hardly be more different. The scherzo is almost entirely built out of the two tiny ideas presented at the outset by the cello - a jagged four-note motif, and a smooth phrase of three notes incorporating a trill – which appear in every conceivable combination during the course of the piece. The trio is an agitated minore which threatens to make a comeback following the reprise of the scherzo, before it is abruptly cut off. The scheme is similar to the one Beethoven had used in the scherzo of his Ninth Symphony, and both pieces play on the listener’s expectations of encountering the expanded scherzo form he had used so often during the preceding decade, in which the trio was played twice in full, between three statements of the scherzo.

Like the first movement, with its imperious opening chords (they recur twice more during the course of the piece, each time in a different key, and a scoring more sonorous than the last), the finale begins with a form of introduction – a dramatic gesture given out in octaves by all four players, and winding its way downwards to dissolve into the movement’s main theme. But perhaps the most startling event in the piece is its coda, in which the music undergoes a rhythmic transformation. Not only does the coda begin in a sustained pianissimo, and in a translucent C major, but the music’s pulse also slows at precisely the point where we might have expected it to increase. However, the more relaxed tempo allows Beethoven to write notes of smaller value, and the effect is one of quiet scurrying out of which the transformed rondo theme eventually emerges in a resplendent fortissimo.

Copyright Misha Donat 2013

Quartet in F Major Op. 59 No. 1 ('Razumovsky')

Beethoven’s three quartets Op.59, composed in 1806, have become inseparably linked with the name of Count Andreas Kirillovich Razumovsky - the Russian ambassador in Vienna, as well asone of the city’s foremost musical patrons. It was in homage to Razumovsky that Beethoven introduced a Russian folk tune into the first two of his Op.59 Quartets, albeit treating those tunes with a wilful disregard for their original character. Only six years separate the Razumovsky Quartets from Beethoven’s first set of string quartets, Op.18, but in that time his style had changed almost beyond recognition. Not only did the new quartets’ technical demands place them well beyond the reach of amateur players, but the breadth of their canvas was such that it had been exceeded among Beethoven’s instrumental works only by the Eroica Symphony. Not surprisingly,
of the three quartets only the more classically-proportioned C major last work was at all favourably received by Beethoven’s contemporaries.

The unusual scope of the Razumovsky Quartets makes itself felt at the very outset of the first work, with its long cello melody unfolding beneath an obstinately unchanging, and largely dissonant, accompaniment that delays any firm establishing of the home key of F major for some twenty bars. It is a beginning that breathes an air of expansiveness, while at the same time unleashing a sense of tension that is not resolved until the movement’s closing pages. The length of the piece is actually reduced by the lack of the traditional exposition repeat, whose omission is highlighted through an implied repeat, in the shape of a reprise of the movement’s opening bars, as though the first stage were indeed about to be heard again in full, before the music instead strikes out along new paths, and the central development gets under way.

Following the scherzo-like second movement - a kaleidoscopic juxtaposition of contrasting material – the slow movement, in the minor, presents one of Beethoven’s great tragic pieces. Its pervasive atmosphere of grief is enhanced by the retention of the minor for its second subject, and the movement’s heading includes the word mesto (sad) - an indication we might more readily associate with the melancholy side of Chopin and Tchaikovsky. Beethoven had, however, used it on one earlier occasion: the slow movement of the Piano Sonata Op.10 No.3.

An elaborate violin cadenza provides a link to the finale, with its Russian main theme. Like the opening subject of the first movement, the theme is given out by the cello beneath a harmonically static accompaniment - in this case, no more than a violin trill. Shortly before the end of the work the Russian tune is momentarily heard in a tempo more in keeping with its original melancholy character, before it is brushed aside with a gesture of impatience.

Copyright Misha Donat 2013

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Thursday, March 23 Program

String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 18, No. 6

  • Allegro con brio
  • Adagio ma non troppo
  • Scherzo (allegro)
  • La Malinconia (Adagio) - Allegretto quasi Allegro

String Quartet in F-Major, Op. 135

  • Allegretto
  • Vivace
  • Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo (Variations)
  • 'The difficult resoltuion' -Gravee, ma non troppo tratto ('Must it be?') - Alegro ('It myst be! It must be!')

String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 "Rasumovsky"

  • Allegro
  • Molto Adagio
  • Allegretto
  • Presto

Notes About the Show
String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6
String Quartet in F-Major, Op. 135
String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2 "Rasumovsky"

Listening to a concert of Beethoven string quartets will invariably elicit a complex mix of emotions from me: awe, gratitude, a sense of profound fulfillment, jealousy. This last, most ungenerous one might embarrass me, but it is decidedly there: after all, given the amount of my life I have devoted to working on Beethoven’s piano sonatas, it is somewhat dispiriting to be reminded that he was the author of another body of music which delves even further into the unknown, which leaves even further behind the conventions of musical language, replacing them with a dialogue with infinity.

Not dialogue, actually, but…tetra-logue, is it? Therein lies the magic of the string quartet: it is music produced by four people. Four people who may operate as a unit, but who equally can bring their individual voices to bear. That is what is unique about the string quartet as an instrument: with some doing, it can achieve the same magnificent unity as a piano, whereas the piano can never really approximate the “bustling severalness” (to borrow the phrase of a viola-playing colleague) of the string quartet. It can be still and rollicking, harmonious and conflicted, sacred and profane. It can do everything Beethoven asks of it, and Beethoven asks everything of it.

* * *

The three quartets on this program come from three distinct points in Beethoven’s life. The first and second represent his final thoughts from periods of concentration in the genre; the third is at the center of a trinity of masterpieces composed while he was writing other masterpieces in various other genres. While the language grows undeniably more advanced, it would be a great pity if that led one to overlook the marvelous work that opens it: the B flat major, opus 18 number 6.

The boldness of the six quartets that comprise opus 18 has always amazed me: early in life, Beethoven already placed some of his greatest ambitions in a form that his teacher Haydn had not only invented, but taken to unimaginable heights. (That Beethoven wrote great piano concerti in the immediate post-Mozart era might seem similarly audacious, but in fact he wrote fewer in his whole lifetime than there are quartets in opus 18.) And while these works might be rather conventional in structure and general conception, they don’t sound a bit like Haydn – in fact, they don’t sound like anything but Beethoven. The opus 18 quartets resemble the piano sonatas of their era to a greater extent than can be said of the middle or late period works, where the concerns become so remarkably specific, not just genre to genre, but piece to piece. In these early works there is a consistent emphasis on virtuosity, of both compositional and instrumental varieties – Beethoven’s titanic personality was already fully-formed by the time he wrote his first quartets, but the desire to dazzle, to show all that he could do, is palpable in the music.

The “voice” of the 6th quartet is perhaps similar to that of the first five, but it looks to the future in a way that the others do not. (The 5th quartet of opus 18, in fact, is unusual among Beethoven’s works in that it even looks back – it takes Mozart’s quartet in the same key as a clear source of inspiration.) The first three movements, marvelous as they are, conform to the model Beethoven so often used in his early years: a first movement that is energetic to the point of rambunctiousness; a second which locates the intersection of elegance and eloquence; a scherzo of biting humor. Every bit of this is expertly handled and fully satisfying, but none of it really hints at what is still to come: a movement with a slow, solemn introduction – “La Malinconia” – which reappears (or, rather, intrudes) later in the movement. This slow material makes the movement longer than any of the three that have preceded it, and turns it into a dialogue between introspection and high-spiritedness which is only resolved in the work’s whiz-bang final moments. Beethoven’s artistic evolution was multifaceted, obviously, but one of its main concerns was the overall shape and balance of the work. Early in life, Beethoven’s model was to give greater weight to the first and second movements, just as Haydn and Mozart did; the third and, when they existed, fourth movements provided a sense of release. By the end of his life,

Beethoven had turned this model on its head, writing works that moved, inevitably and inexorably, towards a climactic final moment. (Opus 135 is a typically spectacular example.) With the quartet opus 18 number 6, this evolution is underway.

* * *

Beethoven’s farewell to the piano came not with the final three sonatas, or with the Diabelli Variations, but with the Bagatelles, op. 126, which are as delightful as they are moving. Beethoven said farewell to the string quartet in a similar fashion: having written the overpowering series of masterworks that are the quartets opp. 127, 130, 131, and 132, he gives us a work that offers profundity shorn of any traces of monumentality. And 135 really is “farewell”: Beethoven had yet to write the final movement of opus 130, but that’s only because the work’s original finale, the Grosse Fuge proved a bridge too far for players and listeners of the time, and needed to be replaced. And while Beethoven never completed another work, he was sketching a string quintet when he died, which suggests that opus 135 was the work with which he wanted to leave the genre behind.

Opus 135, concise though it is, is many things at once. It is a summation and distillation of what Beethoven had achieved in 15 timeless masterworks – one remarkable passage in the slow movement virtually quotes the opening of Opus 127, while simultaneously evoking the beklemmt passage from Opus 130’s Cavatina. It is one of the first ever programmatic, or at least, literary pieces of music, its finale an essay on the question, “Musses Sein?” and the inevitable reply, “Es Muss Sein!” Perhaps above all, it is a tribute to the past: With its mix of sly humor, raucousness, and religious beauty, it is, amazingly, the most Haydnesque of all of Beethoven’s quartets.

Yet it is still Beethoven, through and through. One moment, he is digging deep into the earth in the scherzo; the next, he is addressing the cosmos. It is perhaps Beethoven’s greatest gift that his transcendence makes him no less human.

* * *

I don’t wish to add to more than a century’s worth of marginalization of Beethoven’s early period, but the truth is that nothing from opus 18 can truly prepare us for size and emotional scope of the three “Razumovsky” Quartets, opus 59. Each of the three is a miracle, and a novel: like so many of the other works from this unusually fertile period, these quartets are epic not only in their length but in their aims.

The epic nature of opus 59 number 2 is established with its first two chords: simultaneously a blow of fate and an unanswerable question, they set the work on its often dark and always riveting path. While I stand by the assertion that the sonatas and quartets of the early period are most alike, the second Razumovsky quartet has much in common with the famous Appassionata Sonata, written in the same year. The works share striking details – the immediate move to the neopolitan in their first movements, for example – but are aligned most meaningfully by the terseness that characterizes their outer movements, and above all, by their ever-present sense of terror. I prefer not to say that one or the other is the greater work, but the quartet’s range of expression is exponentially wider; in the Appassionata, that sense of terror dominates all else.

What Opus 59 number 2 has over the sonata, unequivocally, is its sublime slow movement – the longest Beethoven had written to that point, save for the Funeral March from the Eroica, and arguably as moving as anything he ever composed. In the midst of a work that is otherwise so remorseless, its principal qualities are tenderness and consolation – like so much of Beethoven’s greatest music, it is so lofty, yet so touching. The remarkable warmth of this music is not, however, what one usually associates with the slow movements of the middle period (with the violin concerto a notable exception). More often, they are greek tragedies, as in the fourth piano concerto and Eroica symphony; oases of calm in the midst of turmoil, like the Appasionata; or cries of pain, such as the great Adagio molto e mesto from the first Razumovsky. Opus 59 number 2 ends in remarkable fashion when its final movement, which initially seems somewhat joyous, rushes headlong towards hell, but it is that slow movement, so filled with longing yet so open-hearted, which lingers longest in the memory.

Copyright Jonathan Biss 2014

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Friday, March 24 Program

String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4

  • Allegro ma non tanto
  • Scherzo (Andante scherzoso quasi Allegretto)
  • Menuetto (Allegretto)
  • Allegro-Prestissimo

String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74 ("The Harp")

  • Poco adagio-Allegro
  • Adagio, ma non troppo
  • Presto (Piu presto quasi prestissimo) - Allegretto con Variazionni

String Quartet in B flat, Op. 130, with Grosse Fuge ending, Op. 133

  • Adagio, ma non troppo-Allegro
  • Presto
  • Andante con moto, ma non troppo
  • Alla danza tedesca (Allegro assai)
  • Cavatina (Adagio molto espressivo)
  • Finale: Grosse Fuge (Op. 133)


Notes About the Show
String Quartet in A major, Op. 18 No. 5

The writing of string quartets was a daunting proposition for any young composer in the Vienna of the 1790s. Between them Haydn   and Mozart had raised the quartet to a supreme vehicle for ‘learned’ taste and subtle, civilised musical discourse. Not surprisingly, Beethoven was careful to establish his credentials as a composer for his own instrument, the piano, before taking up the challenge of this most exalted genre. Before he bit the bullet in 1798, Beethoven undertook a rigorous course of preparation, studying counterpoint with the venerable J. G. Albrechtsberger, and copying out several Haydn and Mozart quartets.

 When the quartets of Op. 18 finally appeared in 1801, reactions were generally enthusiastic, though some conservative-minded critics found the music harsh and ‘difficult’ – an astonishing reaction to us two centuries later. It would be hard to find a more urbanely Mozartian work of Beethoven’s than the A major, No. 5. Indeed, its third movement and finale are directly modelled on Mozart’s quartet in the same key, K464, a favourite of Beethoven’s.

 While the opening Allegro, in a dancing 6/8 metre, is Mozartian in spirit, it has none of the chromatic richness and ambiguity of the equivalent movement in Mozart’s quartet. The atmosphere here is of puckish, faintly bucolic elegance, though, true to form, Beethoven enjoys ruffling the music’s surface with his favourite offbeat accents. Compared with the earlier Op. 18 quartets, the imitative counterpoint is almost nonchalant, where theirs had been strenuous. A shift from E major to F sharp minor at the start of the development promises tense drama that Beethoven quickly defuses, relaxing into the key of D major over pastoral drones in the cello.

As in K464, Beethoven’s second movement is a minuet, though without Mozart’s contrapuntal and harmonic intricacy. With its delicate two-part textures, the music has a chaste, almost finicky elegance that is uniquely its own. There is a delightful foretaste of Schubert in the beery Ländler trio, roughed up by offbeat sforzandi.

The Andante’s variation theme – essentially a series of falling and rising scales – is far simpler than Mozart’s. But after five variations (of which the fourth is an exquisite, soft reharmonisation of the theme), Beethoven, like Mozart, embarks on an elaborate coda, beginning with a mysterious swerve from D to B flat: here the cello’s repeated ‘ticking’ recalls the ‘drum’ ostinato near the end of Mozart’s movement. K464 is also the inspiration behind the finale, which contrasts and then combines the quicksilver opening theme with a sustained chorale melody. Even Mozart rarely wore his polyphonic learning more lightly than Beethoven does in this scintillating movement.

String Quartet in C major, Op. 59 No. 3

It was some time during the winter of 1804-5 that Count Andreas Razumovsky, Russian ambassador to Vienna and a good amateur violinist, commissioned Beethoven to write three string quartets ‘with Russian melodies, real or imitated’. The three works were completed in 1806 and premiered the following February by the quartet led by Beethoven’s friend Ignaz Schuppanzigh. Reviewing the concert, the Viennese correspondent of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung wrote that ‘three very long and difficult Beethoven quartets...are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. They are profoundly thought through and composed with enormous skill, but will not be intelligible to everyone, with the exception of the third, which by virtue of its individuality, melodic invention and harmonic power is certain to win over every educated music lover.’

It was doubtless the forthright extroversion of the outer movements and the urbanity of the minuet that made No. 3 more instantly palatable than its compaions. Yet in some ways it is the strangest work of the three. The labyrinthine slow introduction, surely modelled on Mozart’s ‘Dissonance’ Quartet, K465, goes even further than Mozart in blurring not only the tonality but also any firm sense of rhythm. Even at the start of the Allegro vivace the key of C major is initially shadowed and tentative before emerging unequivocally, with a glorious sense of release, at the first sustained forte. From here on the music is predominantly exuberant, relishing the depth and sonorous brilliance of C major. Yet the movement also has its whimsical, quizzical streak. Beethoven, typically, works wonders with the main theme’s opening two note-figure, above all at the climax of the development where it expands into a mysterious canon between upper and lower strings.

This is the only one of the ‘Razumovsky’ quartets not to include   an authentic Russian melody. Paradoxically, though, the Andante con moto quasi Allegretto sounds more exotically Slavonic than anything in Op. 59 Nos 1 and 2. This is the most inscrutable movement in Op. 59, from the wailing opening theme, over the cello’s repeated pizzicato E, to the mesmerised closing bars. Amid this remote melancholy, the contrasting galant theme in C major seems like an interloper from an ancien régime drawing room.

Beethoven brings us back to earth with an almost exaggeratedly decorous minuet, a half-nostalgic, half-ironic glance back to an earlier age. In the pianissimo coda C major slips to a shadowy C minor. Then, after a last-second shift back to C major, the viola launches into a long, moto perpetuo fugal subject, initiating the most virtuosic of all Beethoven’s quartet finales. The promise of a full-blown fugue is, though, short-lived. Instead, like Mozart’s G major Quartet, K387 – and with a nod to Beethoven’s own Op. 18 No. 5 - the movement alternates stretches of ‘learned’ fugato with looser textures. Above a sketch Beethoven wrote ‘Let your deafness no longer be a secret – not even in art’. And it is surely not too fanciful to hear this torrential movement as a triumphant assertion of the will in the face of his affliction.

String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131

While we might like to imagine Beethoven composing his late quartets of 1824-26 in hermetic isolation from the world, the truth is that they were created in response to a growing public demand for string quartets. While he was still wrestling with the Grosse Fuge finale of Op. 130, Beethoven received a lucrative offer from the Paris-based publisher Moritz Schlesinger for Op. 132 and 130, plus a third, as yet unwritten, quartet. This turned out to be the C sharp minor, begun in late 1825 and finished the following summer. According to Karl Holz, Schuppanzigh’s second violinist, Beethoven himself regarded the C sharp minor Quartet as his greatest. But though there are accounts of earlier private performances, including, poignantly, one to Schubert on his deathbed, it was not heard in public until 1835.

Ever unpredictable in his dealings with publishers, Beethoven eventually sold the rights not to Schlesinger but to Schott of Mainz. Anticipating Mahler’s dictum that a symphony must contain ‘the whole world’, Beethoven seems to have designed Op. 131 to embrace a vast range of forms, textures and feeling, ranging from the unearthly elegy of the opening fugue to the street tunes and knockabout humour of the Presto.

Yet Beethoven being Beethoven, he welds diversity into a profound unity. He fashions tight motivic links between the seven sections, drawing much of the material from the prominent pairs of semitones in the fugue theme (B sharp-C sharp, A-G sharp), and alluding to the fugue theme in the finale. Beyond this, the sections do not so much end as dissolve into each other, creating the impression of a vast single span that traverses various related keys before finally reasserting C sharp minor.

Beethoven’s opening fugue testifies to his studies not only of Bach’s ‘48’ but also the rarefied vocal polyphony of Palestrina. But the music ranges through a wider spectrum of tonalities than we ever find in a Bach fugue, straying as far as E flat minor and B major before settling in A major for an ethereal canonic episode for the two violins. Beethoven then builds in a series of waves to a great climax, with the cello tolling the main theme in longer note values against rising sequences in the first violin and syncopations in the inner voices.

As the music seems to ebb away on bare octaves, C sharp rises  softly to D and the scherzo second movement steals in. This is in effect a continuous variation on a gently rocking melody which makes prominent play with the pairs of semitones from the fugue. After a sudden boisterous outburst the movement fades inconclusively. Then two brisk cadential chords initiate a few bars of quasi-operatic recitative, complete with cadenza-like flourishes: a brief interlude between the scherzo and the central variation movement.

The key of the variations, A major, had been prominently ‘flagged’ in the opening fugue. Wagner described the theme as ‘the incarnation of innocence’, though its layout, shared between the two violins, is anything but naive. Each of the six variations has a tendency to grow more intense and/or animated as it proceeds. Beethoven also indulges his fondness for extreme and bizarre contrasts. The third variation, for instance, begins as a dulcet canonic dialogue for viola and cello but ends in a dissonant orgy of trills. The sublime meditation of the fourth variation - a slow, spiritualised waltz - culminates in a chain of trills. Then, with a sudden shift from A to C major, Beethoven launches a coda that becomes riotously infested with trills before dissolving into the ether.

A blunt E major cello arpeggio kick-starts the fifth movement, a duple-time scherzo full of zany disruptions of rhythm, dynamics and tempo. The Trio section - a smoother, less frenetic variant of the opening tune - comes round twice and feints at yet another reprise; but Beethoven deflects this into a madcap, slightly eerie coda where the instruments play the main theme sul ponticello (ie with the bows close to the bridge).

The sixth section is a brief but intensely poignant Adagio quasi un poco Andante that functions as an introduction to the finale. Here sonata form - used for the only time in the work - is the vehicle for the most dynamic and confrontational music in the quartet. C sharp minor makes its first reappearance since the fugue; and the sense that the finale completes a mighty circle is reinforced by its tight thematic and tonal links with earlier movements, most obviously in the main theme’s piano answering phrases, which reorder the fugue’s first four notes.

Notes by Richard Wigmore

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Elias String Quartet members in performance

GUEST BLOG: Insightful and immaculate playing from the Elias Quartet at Wigmore Hall

Article originally posted to seenandheard-international.com/ Claire Seymour May 1, 2022 "Insightful and immaculate...
Beethoven sketch

Elias String Quartet is Back and Ready for Part Two!

We said there would need to be three more concerts to experience the entirety of Beethoven’s string quartets. And that's exactly what the Elias String...