Concerts in the West tour, November 2019, Andrew Maddocks
A programme of string quartets composed by a 14 year old Mendelssohn, a 15 year old Schubert, a relatively mature 29 year old Mozart and a rarely heard two-movement example by Luigi Boccherini, a contemporary of Mozart, gave the capacity audience at Crewkerne’s Dance House an insight into the considerable qualities of the Consone Quartet. As the evening progressed it became understandable what has led the BBC to award Consone the status of New Generation Artists for 2019-2021. In addition to the unquestionable technical accomplishments of each musician, there is a clarity of purpose and thought as to the fundamentals and ideals of quartet playing. Consone exude confidence, calmness and poise in their delivery. There is ease and humility in their manner and a strong sense of respect for the music. These qualities were caught and palpably felt and expressed collectively by applause and individually in remarks made by listeners on exiting.
The short two-movement E minor quartet from Boccherini’s set of 1781 proved an ideal ‘overture’ for the more substantial E flat quartet from Mozart’s set of six quartets composed 1784-1785. The latter illustrated in abundance Consone’s complementary balance of tone, dynamics and phrasing. With the second movement’s hymnodic mood and sinuous lines, Consone gave us an impression of time standing still. Agata Daraskaite’s confident and assured violin playing was a notable contribution. The Menuetto e Trio movement is full of life, humour imbued with a strong folk-dance element. Its lilt and chattering quavers suggesting a lively conversation between friends. The Allegro vivace finale demonstrated Consone’s clear consensus over the various tempo changes and rubatos.
The early Schubert C major Quartet was one of a number of pieces he wrote for intimate domestic performance. The Consone ‘family’ brought intimacy to their performance. The second movement has the nature of a later Schubert melancholic song, beautifully played by Agata Daraskaite and with a suave but suitably sensitive accompaniment from her friends, Magdalena Loth-Hill, Elitsa Bogdanova and George Ross. The spirited final movement, full of vigour and presaging Schubert’s later orchestral energy, served to illustrate another dimension to Consone’s appeal, namely, that no room is given for individual self-indulgencies. Their physical and cerebral input at such moments is balanced and directed towards the music and each other.
Very appropriately for music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Consone Quartet use
gut strings, Classical period bows and well-judged vibrato. This produced a warm and tonal homogeny while permitting phrasing of a suitably graceful kind for the song-like melodic structures of Mozart and Schubert. At the same time there was a singular clarity emanating from each instrument that in the Bachian-styled fugue of Mendelssohn’s E flat Quartet lent a further sense of participatory balance that is such a feature of Consone’s identity. Being the final sounds of a very pleasurable evening, the Fuga encapsulated so much of the attractive performing qualities that the Consone Quartet possesses.
Haydn & Mendelssohn CD - The Strad, Charlotte Gardner
“Prize-winning young quartet scores a bullseye with this debut.”
Every now and then a debut disc comes along that instantly leaps out of the stereo at you as something special. This is one. Formed in 2012 at London’s Royal College of Music, the Consone Quartet (comprising violinists Agata Daraskaite and Magdalena Loth-Hill, violist Elitsa Bogdanova and cellist George Ross) focuses on exploring Classical and early Romantic repertoire on period instruments. Its explorations have been rewarded thus far with two prizes at the 2015 York Early Music Competition, including a place on the Eeemerging Scheme at Ambronay, and winning the 2016 Royal Over-Seas League Ensemble Prize.
This programme is perfect debut recording material for these musicians, and indeed they get underneath its skin as much as anyone could wish. Take the slow introduction to the Mendelssohn op.12, written by the 18-year-old composer against the seismic recent event of Beethoven’s death. It appears, clean and lucid of tone, poised and tender of approach, tension and resolution beautifully managed, and with a narrative to the phrasing which has you hanging on for every next musical word. Or the subtle cheekiness of the marcato markings at the outset of the Haydn Menuetto which are almost more a change of tone than attack, especially enjoyably so for Daraskaite’s gossamer high As. I could go on - but essentially this is a musical, emotional, stylistic and technical bullseye.
Haydn & Mendelssohn CD - Early Music Review *****
I first encountered the period instrument Consone Quartet, all of whom are former students at the Royal Academy of Music, at Ambronay in 2016. At that time they appeared competitively as part of the Eeemerging project for young musicians. Following that short concert, I wrote that their playing of Haydn’s late op. 77/1 String Quartet ‘showed considerable promise but would eventually benefit from the quartet’s own developing maturity’. Would that my prophetic words were always as satisfyingly fulfilled as they are by this splendid recording, made some 18 months later in the spring of 2018. For here is a performance in which maturity and technical excellence have merged to provide one of the most rewarding performances I have heard of this wonderful product of Haydn’s ageless old age. One of the remarkable features of all the performances here is the near-perfect balance, whether achieved as a result of the players facing each other in the square formation shown in the booklet photo or for some other reason I don’t know. But it is so, revealing part writing in a clear, yet warm ambiance for which the recording engineer also deserves the greatest credit.
A further mark of growing maturity can be found in the freedom the players have come to allow themselves in the use of rubato and touches of expressive portamento, the latter particularly effective in the gentle affection they bring to the youthful, yet understated romanticism of the opening movement of Mendelssohn’s early E flat Quartet, op. 12 (1829). This and sometimes bold decisions regarding contrasts of dynamics and tempo are a dangerous course if the results sound contrived or simply imposed, but here they invariably seem to stem from the players’ collective inner thoughts and feelings. Also admirable is the light, buoyant touch and perfect chording the Consones bring to the Canzonetta: Allegretto of op. 12, the quartet’s scherzo and trio. Here, at the ripe old age of 20, are reminiscences of those teenage miracles, the string Octet and the Midsummer Night’s Dream overture. And should you still doubt that Mendelssohn wrote nearly all his best music before he was out of short trousers, the Four Pieces published posthumously as op. 81 after the composer’s death provide further evidence. They date from across his career, the best being a veiled Fuga constructed of magical filigree strands of aural thread written just after the completion of the op 13 String Quartet in A minor in 1827. There is a Scherzo, too, dating from much later (1847) and a poor relation of those gossamer-like pieces mentioned above.
Finally, we must briefly return to the Haydn and a performance that has grown so immeasurably since I first heard it. Now the opening Allegro sets out with a deliciously jaunty but never rushed step, the counterpoint of the second idea in the development exposed with revelatory clarity. The following Adagio, one of the most profound of Haydn’s quartet movements, is graced especially by the exquisitely played solo arabesques and roulades of first violinist Agate Daraskaite. Both Menuetto and the final presto bubble over with spirit, good humour and poignant reminders of the old man’s humble peasant beginnings. ‘Old man? Age is just a figure’, Haydn seems to be saying in this infectiously joyous playing. The last word goes to Marc Vignal’s notes, a model of what such things should be. A well deserved – and from me rare – five stars all round.
"The textures were always clear and voice-leading immaculate."
The Strad, 2017