As Endellion Quartet violinist Andrew Watkinson prepares to lead the Guildhall String Ensemble, he tells us his favourite works for strings – and we put them in a convenient playlist
1. Elgar: Introduction and Allegro
A virtuoso string feast, featuring typically brilliant Elgarian string writing, a glorious viola solo, and a devilish fugue. Fantastic to play – if the group is up to it!
2. Tippett: Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli
With the same instrumental configuration as a baroque Concerto Grosso, and based on a movement of one of Corelli’s, this is gloriously rhapsodic and extremely difficult!
3. Tchaikovsky Serenade
Joyful, lyrical and brilliant. Apart from the prayerful Elegy, each movement trips along with a smile on its face – and, with admirable economy, just about every tune is based on a scale!
4. Shostakovich Chamber Symphony
A transcription of the Eighth String Quartet, dedicated to the Memory of the Victims of Fascism and War, and just as full of pain and misery as the dedication suggests. Extraordinarily powerful and the only reworking of a quartet for orchestra which for me adds more to the work than it takes away!
5. Elgar Serenade for Strings
The outer movements are gently pastoral, but the slow movement is a wonderful outpouring of melody which in barely five minutes creates an unforgettable world of gently wistful recollection.
6. Britten – Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge
Each of the 10 variations bears a title (for instance Romance, Wiener Waltz, Aria Italiana) and is witty, superbly characterised, and written with Britten’s extraordinary feel for sound colour. Very difficult!
7. Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Wonderfully atmospheric and very moving, especially if heard in a space where the solo quintet is invisible, so that its barely audible phrases appear like whispers from another world.
8. Hindemith – Trauermusik for Viola and Strings
Supposedly written in one night for the funeral of King George V, these 5 short pieces show what incredibly beautiful and poignant music Hindemith wrote when he didn’t have time to think about it. They always make me want to cry!
9. Dvořák Serenade
Full of typically attractive Dvořákian melody and harmony, this joyful piece is perfect in every way – expect that a few places are so fiendishly difficult to play!
10. De Falla – 7 Spanish Folk Songs (arr. Stephanie Chase)
De Falla wrote these pieces for soprano and piano but first he, and then countless other people, arranged them for every combination imaginable. This magical mixture of simple dances and brooding laments transports me straight to the Iberian Peninsula. [There isn’t a version of this on YouTube but you can hear it on the American String Project website here]
The Endellion String Quartet celebrates its 40th anniversary with concerts on 20 January and 29 May at Wigmore Hall, London. Tickets here.
Andrew Watkinson performs with the Guildhall String Ensemble on 24 January, Milton Court, London. Tickets here