“… These three master pieces, which Britten gave to the world, deserve performances from top-ensembles… The Endellion String Quartet has lived with these works for 30 years. Their first recording, on EMI and dating from 1978, was already awarded several prizes back then. This new version has an even richer sound, is rhythmically even more accurate and has a togetherness of ensemble which is unsurpassed. The incomparable individualities of each of the three quartets […] is being brought out to the full… Quartet playing at top-level.”
Luister Magazine, Holland’s premier Record Magazine, February 2014
CD: Britten Quartets (Warner Classics)
These performances have a musical understanding that bespeaks a lifetime of engagement with these works.
The Sunday Times Album of the Week, Nov 2013 CD: Britten Quartets (Warner Classics)
The Vivace of the knotty Second String Quartet is thrillingly virtuosic and the central sections crackle. Britten’s writing cruelly exposes any weakness in technique or intonation, yet the Endellions emerge with flying colours. First violinist Andrew Watkinson’s intensely sweet tone is a wonderful match for David Waterman’s plangent, open cello sound. They create the illusion of a string orchestra in Britten’s grandly expressive Chacony.
That sense of expansiveness continues inro the haunting Quartet No. 3, with its fantastically resonant Duets first movement. Stillness and transparency conjure a mirage-like Adagio, teetering on the brink of sound, followed by a Burlesque of penetrating vigour. In the finale, Waterman captures the rocking gondola figure from Death in Venice its soft grey tones offset by glacial chords from his colleagues … the whole is enormously moving, especially the incandescent unspooling of major thirds at the Quartet’s climax.
BBC Music Magazine, 2013 CD: Britten Quartets (Warner Classics)
There’s always a feeling when listening to the Endellion Quartet that you’re listening to the Urtext method of quartet playing. Maybe 35 years of playing together has brought to them as a group a uniformity of thought and instinct that allows them to play as a single entity; or maybe their unfussy, intellectual approach is particularly compatible with a genre that is, if done skilfully, a concentration of all the musical ideas of the composer.
Either way (or, more likely, both ways), the Endellion’s playing is nearly always beyond reproach, and this contrasting army of Haydn’s quartet styles and personalities is no exception. They bring our with very simple clarity all of Haydn’s humour, his partiality to gypsy dances, his ability to write melodies that are deeply affecting in their simplicity, and the mercuriality of his personality (particularly though his occasional unexpected key-changes). All this is imparted through an easy congeniality that plainly belies a minuteness in their study of the music. The beautifully balanced arguments of this optimistic disc are highly recommended.
Gramophone, March 2013, CD: Haydn Quartets [Warner Classics]
The Endellion Quartet’s experience tells impressively in this collected edition not just of the regular Beethoven string quartets but also of variants plus the string quintets and fragments. In addition, this is the first recorded cycle to adopt the amendments suggested in Jonathan Del Mar’s scholarly Edition. I had never realised that the first version of Op. 18, No. 1, for example, is markedly different from the text we know. It is fascinating here to have both versions on the first of the 10 discs, with Misha Donat’s authoritative notes analysing the principle differences. It is also good to have Beethoven’s own neat arrangement of the Op. 14 No. 1 Piano Sonata. As for the fragments, none is specially valuable but they are all worth hearing, as are the String Quintets, Opp. 4 & 29, and two fugues for string quintet.
The Endellions have always been an intense, sensitive group, and here their merits after 30 years are highlighted by the comparison in two pieces with the Artemis Quartet. Polished as the playing of the Artemis is, there is an extra refinement, of pointing of detail and in tempo choices, in the Endellion versions. For example, Op. 18 No. 4 has no regular slow movement, but whereas the Artemis treat the second movement as the substitute for a Scherzo, the Endellions follow the marking Andante scherzo with the lightest of pointing at a brisk speed, and treat the Minuet third movement marked Allegretto as the slow-movement substitute, all with telling effect.
Op. 59 No. 2 draws from the Endellions the most refined, dedicated playing in the visionary slow movement, whereas the Artemis are relatively earthbound, polished as they are. At every point the Endellions demonstrate their extra maturity. They consistently play with inner depth and dedication, and employ the widest dynamic range, with whispered pianissimos as intense as the biting fortissimos. I haven’t compared this new set with those of rivals such as the Lindays, but with perfect intonation and matching, this is a most valuable new issue, particularly with such a wonderful collection of bonus items. The recordings are also a model of balance and refinement.
Edward Greenfield Gramophone 2009 Editors Choice Beethoven String Quartets Warner Classics
This is the most comprehensive package of Beethoven string music ever recorded by a single ensemble. As the performances of the central canon of 17 quartets are the best overall from the past decade or so, and Jonathan Del Mar’s new Bärenreiter editions have been used, the set carries my highest recommendation…
The Endellion Quartet, which this year is celebrating its 30th anniversary with three founder members still in place and a personnel unchanged since 1986, has steadily evolved from a neat and tidy group into something a little shaggier and far more penetrative, especially in Beethoven. All four players are remarkable artists and Andrew Watkinson is a leader of international stature. So these discs are much more than anniversary markers. As nine works, including almost all the late quartets, have already appeared on single discs and have been widely acclaimed, I have concentrated my listening on the rest.
One of Del Mar’s emendations is noticeable in the finale of the second ‘Rasumovsky’, a work that gets a terrific performance, one that is typical of the set in its well-chosen tempos, the power of the first-movement development and the sense of ‘creation’ in the unfolding of the slow movement. The C sharp minor Quartet Op. 131 has a wonderfully organic feeling as the players proceed through its seven sections; they are all at full stretch at several points, not least in the finale. The two quintets and the lesser pieces are delightfully played.
The slow movement of Op. 18 No.1, launched with a firm tread, is most inwardly played, with real ‘appassionato’ in the development. We are given both versions of this work and it is fascinating to hear the Endellion players adjust their interpretation to Beethoven’s slightly different markings in the earlier version, which has a much longer first movement. I think they are right to make the first version more Classical, the second more Romantic. The ‘Harp’ is given an interpretation of tremendous power, which raises the whole stature of the work. The tempo for the scherzo is quite furious and there is a delightful touch of wit at the end of the well-characterised variation finale.
The Strad 2009 Beethoven String Quartets Warner Classics
The 10 CDs include not only the standard canon of quartets, but an early version of Op. 18, No. 1 and various bits and pieces. The Endellions relish all the exuberance of the Op .18 set… … In the later quartets, the near-orchestral sonority of the refrain in Op. 127 is splendid, and the Cavatina of Op. 130 will break your heart. It’s a pleasure to hear the little-known C major Quintet, and Beethoven’s own arrangement of his Op. 14, No. 1 Piano Sonata.
Classic FM 2009 Beethoven String Quartets Warner Classics
In this superb cycle, the Endellion Quartet is in its element, the players inspiring each other to express fully the expansive lyricism and poetry to be found in these scores that are far from easy to interpret. The musicians balance a powerful sense of spontaneity (it seems more like a live recording than a studio recording) with a determination to offer truthful and responsible Beethoven interpretations, albeit extraordinarily expressive. They find a way of making music which perfectly responds to the demands of the music. Their choice of tempi, and the appropriate sonorities at each moment, together with their great flexibility which allows them either to blend or to sing out each voice distinctly, makes of these performances a paradigmatic model. They distil delicacy, inner vitality, and emotional drama that strikes the listener as coherent and vivid. The four musicians are made from the same recipe: talent, courage and instrumental naturalness, clarity of ideas and concepts and energy intelligently channelled by the intimate needs of the music. Excellent.
SCHERZO Magazine (Spain) April 2007 Beethoven String Quartets vol 4 Warner Classics
Chamber disc of the month
Enter the Endellion String Quartet, on volume three of their complete cycle of Beethoven’s string music, whose command of his challenges now seems unassailable. Add to this the fact that the Quartet is playing off Jonathan Del Mar’s new edition of Beethoven scores, and this fine CD sits on the spectrum between state-of-the-art and definitive.
Del Mar’s job is to correct mistakes and restore changes to the printed music that have crept in over the passage of time. A restored cello phrase in the Grosse Fugue is so outrageously taxing that the Dionysian flow of the music temporarily buckles to accommodate the leaps; the Endellion’s and Del Mar’s scholarship teleports the listener back to as pure a Beethoven experience as can now exist. Op 130 itself begins in visceral, gutsy fashion as the Endellion’s articulate Beethoven’s structural disjoints like the granite corners of a Henry Moore. Notably, the lyricism of the Andante movement is highly affecting, emerging refreshed and thoughtfully re-imagined.
Classic FM Magazine January 2007 Beethoven Quartets vol 3 Op 130
The second finale that Beethoven was persuaded to produce is not a part of the complete performance. It is appended separately. Instead, the work is played as originally composed, ending with the Grosse Fugue which is both aggressive and euphonious; and terrifyingly difficult. The Endellions do not shirk their responsibilities here. They throw caution to the wind and offer no-holds-barred playing entirely in keeping with both aspects of the music. Its central lyrical episode in G flat (4’46” to 7’44”), and a part (13’09’ to 13’47”) of the penultimate section where Beethoven lowers the tension before the dramatic finish, call for sustained pianissimos that the Endellions conjure with consummate artistry.
Gramophone January 2007 Beethoven Quartets vol 3 Op 130
One of Britain’s finest quartets, the Endellion continues its distinguished cycle of Beethoven’s chamber works …these superb musicians respond to the dark undertow so characteristic of Beethoven’s quartets as much as the gentle lyricism which invariably breaks through. With seven discs to go, the rest of this cycle is a mouth-watering prospect.
The Observer Feb 2006 Warner Classics 2564 62196-2
With cover-art evoking Andy Warhol expectations are ripe that the Endellion Quartet’s Beethoven will offer something fresh. The players don’t disappoint. The clarity of their Op.18 is like a picture-restorer stripping varnish from a dusty old canvas. Decades of assumption and received protocol slip away, and Beethoven’s material feels reborn. The Op.132 Quartet was one of his last works and the Endellions have worked with musicologist Jonathan del Mar to iron out wrong notes and ‘helpful’ details added after Beethoven’s death. Their take on the massive central slow movement contains some heartfelt melancholia, and the finale is cathartic and joyful.
Classic FM Magazine, April 2006 Warner Classics Beethoven Quartets vol 2 Rating: Five Stars
…One could hardly wish for a more enlightening guide on this startling emotional journey than the Endellion Quartet. These are supremely natural yet penetrating accounts, superbly recorded.
Classic FM Magazine November 2005 Warner Classics Beethoven Quartets (vol 1)
By coincidence I am writing this the morning after hearing a superb performance by the Endellion of op.130, with the Grosse Fuge as finale. It is indeed high time that our leading string quartet gave us a Beethoven cycle, and this second instalment is excellent. The D major, probably the first of op.18 to be written, is played with great naturalness… in op.132, the faster movements go with a wonderfully natural swing, the fruit of many years of performances.
What clinches it for me is the great Heiliger Dankgesang… the Endellion performance, at a not particularly slow tempo, draws me in where others leave me cold. These players understand that the intensity must increase as they play each succeeding chorale.
Strad Magazine 2006 Warner Classics Beethoven Quartets (Vol 2)
There’s irresistible joie de vivre in this performance of Souvenir de Florence. The Endellion is clearly fired up by the extra two string partners, and the ensemble conveys the kind of spontaneous enjoyment that only comes from the best chamber music playing. On an interpretative level, the Endellion’s almost classical detachment works particularly well, bringing much-needed clarity to the quasi-orchestral textures. With a finely balanced recording to boot, this version of Souvenir compares more than favourably with the much acclaimed 1993 recording from the expanded Borodin Quartet.
BBC Music Magazine 2005 CRD Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence
The Endellions have given many cycles of Beethoven’s quartets in concerts, but only this year, having passed their twenty-fifth anniversary, are they embarking on a complete recording. For such an excellent ensemble, they are surprisingly under-recorded, so this is particularly welcome.
They play Op. 18 No. 2 with an attractively light touch, even if it can be deceptively light. There is no lack of seriousness in their attention to Beethoven’s structural originalities, which are of a different nature from Haydn’s formal adventurousness. But Op. 135’s turning back to the spirit of Haydn came from a lifetime’s experience, not to mention the experience of the four great previous Quartets, Opp. 127, 130, 131 and 132. The Endellions make the Lento of Op. 135, a brief 54 bars long, as intense as its more expansive predecessors, and confront the ‘difficult decision’ severely. Instead of ending the finale in high spirits, as most players do, they allow a certain ambivalence to hover.
String Quartet No. 11 in F minor is strongly played, with a toughness of a rhythm in the Scherzo that justifies its unusual marking Allegro assai vivace ma serioso. The whole quartet is unusually demanding. Remarkably, there are only seven bars of slow music throughout the entire length of a work that Beethoven firmly marked ‘Quartett serioso’ (sic). The seriousness lies in the concentrated nature of the music, and the Endellions do well, with compact but lucid phrasing, to maintain tension and clarity.
The International Record Review, October 2005 Warner Classics Beethoven Quartets (vol 1)
Their playing is warm-hearted, fresh and vital, and this marvellous music…is vividly projected.
Gramophone 1998 – Virgin Classics Haydn String Quartets Op 54 and Op 74
The Endellion’s reading of the Op 11 Quartet has points of advantage over even such fine readings as the Emerson Quartet’s big-scale thrustful account and the Lindsay Quartet’s passionate one. The Endellion find more mystery and even more variety of expression than those fine rivals, and keep the Adagio flowing, making it genuine quartet music.
Gramophone 1994 Virgin Classics Barber chamber works
…outstandingly assured and confident – words which aptly describe the Endellion’s inspirational realization of this searching score.
Hifi News & Record Review 1991 – Virgin Classics Walton/Bridge quartet No 3
It is not only the brilliance, intensity and coherence of their interpretation which engages and impresses the listener, but also their absolutely individual rhythmic, vibrant and thoughtful approach. It holds its own with any of the rival recordings.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 1989 EMI Britten Quartets
Rare is the occasion when one can safely say that every one of the performances in a collection is individually the finest on record, but it is true in this instance…. Neither the Zorian set, nor the Amadeus, reach the combination of heart, mind and technical excellence achieved here…the performances are the finest I have ever heard of the individual string quartet works.
Music and Musicians 1987 – EMI Britten Quartets