Hellens Manor in Much Marcle was the venue for the final event of the Wye Valley January Chamber Music Festival last Sunday.

The programme consisted of three string quartets performed by various individual musicians and one ensemble.

First up was Mendelssohn’s quartet in F minor, written shortly before his death in 1847.

To anyone familiar with Fingal’s Cave or the Scottish Symphony, a first hearing of this work might come as a shock. Unmistakably Mendelsohn certainly, but its turgid drama and complex, sometimes dissonant, syncopations speak of a world of tragedy – the composer’s beloved sister, Fanny, had recently died, and he himself was ailing.

The players skilfully met the quartet’s requirements of precise coordination and dynamic contrasts, entrancing us all.

Next, the Ruisi Quartet were joined by co-Artistic Director Daniel Tong at the piano in a rendition of the Piano Quintet by Shostakovich.

Written on the eve of Russia’s war with Germany, the piece depicts a war of the soul. From the piano’s opening outcry ushering in a string passage that is like a sob of anguish, the listener is plunged into a world where things are definitely not quite as they should be. Shostakovich himself had been under serious pressure as a composer from the Soviet authorities (Stalin fancied himself as something of a music critic). The quintet, with its alternating moods of burlesque, melancholy, satire and charm, reminds us why Shostakovich’s music has been received so warmly all over the world.

{A particularly poignant section comes in the Intermezzo, where the first violin holds a series of chords to produce a set of just-audible harmonics (admirably rendered here), while the piano part sets off on what sounds like a trudge through the snow.} The work was played with poise and eloquence by Tong and the Ruisis, whose warmth of tone gave off a moving sense of resignation.

The last item was Beethoven’s massive Quartet in C sharp minor, op. 131, one of the ‘lates’. Its weird structure – an opening fugue followed by six contrasting movements played without a break – juxtaposes the whimsical with the heartrending, surely enforcing the view commonly held at the time that the composer was indeed mad.

The ‘madness’ was beautifully performed by a group of young players who had the audience whooping for more.

In all, an evening of profound and sombre works, masterpieces all.