Edward Bhesania attends the concert at London’s Kings Place on 20 September 2019
Continuing Venus Unwrapped, Kings Place’s year-long celebration of women composers, the Elias Quartet placed Sally Beamish’s Reed Stanzas (2011) at the centre of this concert. The work was written for these players and it evokes both the tall reeds by Snape Maltings in Suffolk and the bare landscape of the composer’s home on the Outer Hebridean island of Harris. It opens with a distant traditional-style fiddle solo, which second violinist Donald Grant begins off stage. As he joins the other players, they add a layer of otherworldly harmonies. The first violin imitates the lapwing – song gestures brilliantly imagined by Sara Bitlloch. The restrained vibrato overall indeed evoked a reedy tonal core.
It’s hard to fault the Elias’s purpose or virtuosity in Beethoven’s op.18 no.1 and op.59 no.3 ‘Rasumovsky’, but, throughout, the levels of energy and expression were cranked up to eleven. The slow movement of op.18 no.1 rejected lyrical reflection in favour of existential angst. In the slow movement of the ‘Rasumovsky’, the plucked cello became the dreaded beat of Death’s own timepiece. The quartet had bounded over Romanticism and landed squarely at bone-shaking Expressionism. These blinding performances perhaps only underline the myriad treatments that Beethoven’s music can withstand. Be that as it may, while the audience roared in appreciation, my admiration was overtaken by the need for a lie-down.