Shared pleasures – The Elios Quartet at St.Andrew’s

CHERUBINI – Double Fugue

SHOSTAKOVICH String Quartet No.7 Op.108

TCHAIKOVSKY – “Andante Cantabile” from String Quartet No.1

SCHUBERT – “Quartettsatz” (String Quartet No.12)

The Elios Quartet: Martin Jaenecke , Konstanze Artmann violins, Victoria Jaenecke, viola, Paul Mitchell, ‘cello

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Wednesday, 11th November 2009

The Elios String Quartet was formed by a group of friends in 2007, who brought to this Wellington-based ensemble a wealth of musical experience acquired in different parts of the world. Together, they’ve developed a beautiful sound, and a closely-knit sense of the shape and flow of musical phrases which seemed today to bring out all the lines and contours of the pieces within the different frameworks of the music’s character. They chose a Double Fugue by Cherubini to open their concert, a work which demonstrated their qualities as a group to a pleasing degree – what emerged from their playing was a sense of line and a feeling for the work’s overall shape, so that you got a feeling during the second part of the threads and contourings of the music illuminating the intricacies of what had gone before. The work concluded with a grandly rhetorical statement, again presented with what seemed just the right amount of gravitas, though with enough buoyancy to lift the exercise out of the realms of its origin as a solfeggio vocal exercise.

From Dmitri Shostakovich’s fifteen string quartets, the group chose No.7, written by the composer in 1960, in memory of his first wife, Nina, who died in 1954. It was here introduced by violist Victoria Jaenecke, who talked about the work’s ability to convey great atmosphere and strength of character in a brief space of time (at roughly twelve minutes’ duration it is the composer’s shortest quartet). The three movements are played without a break, the group bringing out all the first movement’s dry, sardonic nonchalance, a mood which darkens into a Lento of almost unrelieved sadness, the music wandering for much of the time in an ambient wilderness. The finale’s explosions of energy were brought off by the quartet with great elan, the viola attacking the fugal argument with fierce determination, the ‘cello moaning frequent complaints in the face of the other instruments’ sometimes unison scrubbings. As the music gradually loses its aggressive edge, a ghostly waltz steers the course of things towards reminiscences of the first two movements, accompanied by pizzicato notes which gradually dissolve, leaving the sounds suspended in a kind of quiet, enigmatic state of resignation.

After this, the well-known Tchaikovsky “Andante Cantabile” (from the composer’s first string quartet) was balm for the senses – the players brought out a lovely “veiled” quality to the music, suggesting a lightening of mood between the folk-songish opening theme and the dance-like middle section, with the unisons of both violins adding extra emotional “squeeze” before the hushed return of the opening – all nicely orchestrated by the players, and with only a slight touch of unsteadiness in the high violin work towards the end threatening to break the spell.

There remained in the concert Schubert’s unfinished single-movement quartet (called No.12, but otherwise known as the “Quartettsatz”) – the composer plunges us into a kind of “sturm und drang” mood at the outset, here made more fraught by a couple of slightly out-of-tune notes from the first violin, but nevertheless capturing a mood of agitation and desperation before the lovely second subject has its say, the transition between the two essayed with great elan, as are the “sighs” which are shared between the instruments a little later. The players were particularly good at attacking the sforzando beginnings of tremolando passages, conveying both the angst of these irruptions of energy and the contrasting moments of lyricism, the composer in his music “smiling through tears”. All in all, it was extremely elegant and articulate playing by a group from which I hope we’ll hear a great deal more.

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