KENDAL Midday Concert Club's new season began with a visit from the distinguished Allegri String Quartet, writes Clive Walkley.

The concert opened with a performance of Hugo Wolf’s charming Italian Serenade. Coincidentally, this work was heard four days earlier in Kendal played by the Royal Northern Sinfonia in an arrangement made by the composer. Whichever version modern audiences prefer is, of course difficult to judge; both work well. The serenade is a light-hearted and tuneful piece and it is interesting to speculate what Wolf might have gone on to write for strings had his life not been cut short by the onset of mental illness.

The Allegri’s performance brought out all the rhythmic vitality and joie de vivre of this charming piece. Given the serious nature of what was to follow, it was a good choice of concert opener.

The main work in the concert was Beethoven’s mighty String Quartet Op 127, one of the composer’s late quartets, all composed in the last four years of his life. It is a vast work in four movements taking around 40 minutes to perform and takes the string quartet into regions yet uncharted. Like all Beethoven’s late works it presents tremendous technical and musical challenges to performers. When the leader of a famous pioneering string quartet of Beethoven’s time complained about the technical difficulties of a certain passage, Beethoven is said to have replied: "Do you believe that I am thinking of your miserable violin when I am talking to my God?" There is a complete disregard for technical difficulties and formal convention in all the late quartets: Beethoven, thoroughly deaf at this stage of his life, seems to take himself into another world where his innermost feelings dominate.

The Allegri’s performance captured the otherworldly quality of the music wonderfully. From the opening firmly balanced and glowing E flat chord, the ensemble playing was immaculate. Much of the score of the long slow movement (one of the longest Beethoven ever wrote, over 15 minutes in duration) is marked to be played pianissimo and requires careful judgement on behalf of the players as they negotiate their way through the dense textures. The playing had an intimacy that drew the audience into the performance: the cold almost expressionless start was particularly memorable. The rhythmic momentum of the last two movements was firmly sustained as the work finally came to a conclusion. As a herald for what lies in store for the concert club’s new season, this was a memorable opening.