New Zealand Nuances

July 28, 2009

Having just returned from an amazing week in Switzerland where the best of classical and contemporary flute repertoire was executed by some of the greatest professionals in the business, I am back in the proverbial ‘candy shop’ as I look forward to this year’s events at Chamberfest. The anticipation continued as I joined the end of the queue for the New Zealand String Quartet performance 2 blocks from the door of Dominion Chalmers (and growing quickly behind me).

From the beginning, the passion on the faces of the musicians was reflected in the way they played to the hearts of the audience. Their opening piece, Mendelssohn’s Capriccio in E minor for String Quartet, Op. 81, no. 3, hinted at the virtuosic capabilities of each member of the group, and also of their link to one another, evident in their seamless chord changes.

Cellist Rolf Gjelsten, a native of Canada, introduced the second piece, Symphony No. 3, Variation 25, as a transcription for 3 separate voices, a very contemporary piece by composer Ross Harris, born 1945. The directions of phrases were produced by the melody, which were normally played by first violin, and which were sustained by the viola and cello. The musicians’ choice to use no vibrato on appoggiaturas increased the tension in this collection of dissonances. When the second violinist reentered the stage and joined the trio, the piece grew in eeriness, and the dissonances made audience members shiver. During the final chord, passing trucks rumbled through the walls of the church, almost as a final timpani roll in a dying moment – perfect for this eerie music.

Audience members became guests to a posh garden party in the opening of Haydn’s String Quartet in D major, “The Lark”, but of course, wherever there is a garden party, there are children dying to let a little energy out. The melody of the first violin embodied the bursting energy of one wishing to play, yet trying so hard to restrain himself. The melody began very properly along with the other voices, then quicker notes were introduced, with sudden outbursts of sixteenths and galloping notes, like a child who loses self control and must be reined in by his parents once more. This movement was my favourite of the piece. The music was energetic and whistful, playful and clever, and thoroughly pleasant overall.

After the intermission amidst the buzz of a happy crowd dying down, Dvorak made an appearance courtesy of pianist Anton Kuerti in Quintet for Piano and Strings in A major, Op. 81. With a totally different style than the rest of the program, the change in character was unmistakable. The was a driving force for the entire ensemble, and was key to inflections, phrasing, and harmonic progressions. When one would listen to this first movement, one would think of past love: the turmoil, the romance, and the depressing moments. What more could be said for the rest of this piece? The second movement held beautiful textures, was full of gorgeous long melodies, and had an excellent transfer of line between the instruments. The third was whimsical and solemn, the piano giving the piece a sense of forward momentum. The final musical moment of the performance held sections of chaos, and the first violin was able to soar with a brief yet beautiful melody.

Overall, this performance was a crowd pleaser. This quartet showed so obviously that each member was strongly connected to the next, and that each individually was also incredibly skilled. The program held together very well, and was sure to have made all who attended wish for this ensemble’s return next year.

Lindsay Bryden, flutist

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