Aroha Quartet revisits Waikanae Music Society with polished, well-balanced programme

Waikanae Music Society

Aroha String Quartet (Haihong Liu and Simeon Broom, violins; Zhongxian Jin, viola; Robert Ibell, cello)

Haydn: String Quartet in G, Op.33 no.5
Piazzolla: Tango ballet suite
Anthony Ritchie: Whakatipua
Mendelssohn: String Quartet no.6 in F minor, Op.80

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday, 10 April 2016, 2.30pm

It is always a pleasure to hear the Aroha String Quartet and their varied programmes.

The Haydn quartet had a rather sotto voce commencement; the movement was described in the programme notes as a greeting, such as ‘how do you do’. All of Haydn’s jollity and wit were present.

The second movement was enchanting, with a chirpy ending that brought chuckles from the audience. The scherzo was full of changes and interruptions, while its trio was a graceful contrast, with an abrupt ending. The final movement featured a dotted rhythm, and appeared to be a slow dance with variations. It provided a good precursor to the dances to follow.

The sections of Piazzolla’s composition had movement titles, but it was not always apparent where one ended and another began. In a radio interview, Robert Ibell said that he was not aware of the work having been played in New Zealand before; they had difficulty because the supplier of the scores sent only a full score. The parts arrived only days before the performance. So in the meantime they had to cut, copy and paste the full score to create their individual scores.

Contrasting vigorous and dreamlike passages were features of Titulos (Introduction) and elsewhere. Throughout, there was a great variety of writing and of instrumental sounds, all having plenty of individual input. The other sections were: La calle (The Street), Encuentro/Olvido (Encounter/Forgetfulness), Cabaret, Soledad (Solitude), and La calle, again.

There were some great sounds from the viola. A review of a CD of the work found through Google states: ‘The work alternates between vibrant and forceful passages that recall ‘The Rite of Spring’ by Stravinsky and a passionate melancholy for the slower movements. … the “Cabaret” movement … comes closest to mirroring pure tango music.’ The work exemplified the composer’s fusion of tango music with that of the Western classical tradition. One could find echoes of Haydn here, although the music was written only 60 years ago.

Balmy passages quickly gave way to more turbulent ones. As noted by the website, some movements are more dance-like than others. It was remarked to me in the interval that the Aroha Quartet was a little too restrained for this music; bandoneóns would have been more spirited, abandoned and rambunctious.

Anthony Ritchie’s work opened with the most gorgeous sounds, followed by a lilting, dance-like section. Each instrument was distinctive in its part, but when blend was required, it was there. Some parts were modal in tonality, with hints of Douglas Lilburn’s music present.

Mendelssohn’s final string quartet has a spooky opening, the remainder of that movement alternating ‘between rage and lamentation’ as the programme note said, the whole quartet being influenced by his sorrow at the recent sudden death of his sister, Fanny. The melodic invention for which Mendelssohn is noted was ever-present, even lushness of expression, but also a new anger, anguish and tension brought out particularly in the second movement. Quiet passages served to point up this tension.

The adagio recalled some of Mendelssohn’s other slow movements, but its intensity was much greater. I detected Schumann-like elements. The first violinist in particular judged skilfully the rendering of the subtle nuances of this movement, but all played stunningly well. At times there were the most delicate touches; the movement had a peaceful end. Not so the finale last movement. There were solemn, even bitter chords, but also moments of calm contemplation, that soon changed to rapid declamation – perhaps even rejection – with an almost furious ending.


It was a most enjoyable concert, with a variety of interesting and approachable music, beautifully played.

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