MONTREAL – Just when you think it is safe to go to the cottage, the McGill International String Quartet Academy sets up a compelling August agenda of concerts and master classes featuring a range of foursomes. The opening concert on Sunday evening by the Endellion Quartet offered a lesson to anyone who takes the string quartet to be an emblem of classical restraint.These British gents have been at it for decades, so one might have been forgiven for expecting soft-spoken maturity. But they arrived at Pollack Hall ready to rock. Sounds were big and gestures bold. Even the frayed horsehair of their bows said something about their approach.The opening movement of Haydn’s Op. 76 No. 1 was witty, as Haydn should be, but not averse to laughing out loud. Prayers had an evangelical ring to them in the Adagio, which was no less bright in tone. Country dancing in the trio of the Menuetto could hardly have been heartier.Did the exuberance get out of hand in the finale? There was a lot of loud playing here, and in the outer movements of Beethoven’s Op. 59 No. 2. Surely the minor-mode drama of this quartet resides as much in the details as in the big statements. Not that the crowd objected to the Endellion style. The ovation was thunderous. And even I was as impressed by the melodious slow movement.Between these classics, the players offered Britten’s valedictory Quartet No. 3. First violin Andrew Watkinson’s arresting tone was well suited to the soliloquizing of the third movement. The various tonal combinations were presented with characteristic assurance. But I cannot say I perceived the depths that are supposed to underlie the apparent banality of that trudging finale. The quartet (including Ralph de Souza, second violin, Garfield Jackson, viola and David Waterman, cello) played on a red square surface applied to the floor of the Pollack stage as an exercise in McGill branding. Academy artistic director André Roy assures me that it has no acoustic properties. The uncommonly dynamic Endellion sound led me to wonder.This was the debut of the Endellions in Montreal, to which they already had a footnote connection: Jackson uses the viola of his teacher, Beryl Morreau, mother to Renée, who attended the concert with her husband, Joseph Rouleau.
Arthur Kaptainis, The Gazette.