Enthusiastic reception of nicely varied programme from Takács Quartet

Takács Quartet (Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz (violins), Geraldine Walther (viola), András Fejér (cello)
(Chamber Music New Zealand)

Haydn: String Quartet in D, Op.76 no.5
Anthony Ritchie: Whakatipua, Op. 71
Webern: Langsamer Satz
Dvořák: String Quartet no.14 in A flat, Op.105

Michael Fowler Centre

Friday, 4 August 2017, 7.30pm

My initial reaction at the concert was a longing for the Town Hall to be restored to use; chamber music does not sound nearly so well in the cavernous Michael Fowler Centre unless one is near the front, which I was not; it simply does not provide the resonance, and makes ‘chamber music’ a misnomer.

The concert began with vintage Haydn – musically, and chronologically, being written around 1797, (he was born in 1732) part of a set of six quartets.  Its performance immediately demonstrated the lovely cohesion of the players and their subtly varying dynamics.  This is the seventh visit of the world class quartet to New Zealand, but the first visit, I think, for violist Geraldine Walther.  The quartet was founded in Hungary in 1975, but for the larger part of its life has been based in Colorado, USA.  The only remaining original member is the cellist, András Fejér.

After quite a fast allegretto first movement, the placid and charming largo, cantabile e mesto impressed with its lyrically beautiful melodies and harmonies, a touch of melancholy pervading it here and there.  The warmth of tone of the members of the Takács was always apparent in their expressive playing.

The Menuetto and Trio (allegretto) were full of movement.  The higher strings carried the melody and harmony while the cello grunted away underneath in the Trio.  A return to the minuet brought sunnier, uncomplicated music

Chords opened the presto Finale dramatically, then interesting rapid themes with sprightly rhythms took hold.  A change of key added piquancy.  The whole performance was faultless, played with panache, and in an appropriate style.

Anthony Ritchie is an established New Zealand composer who writes in several different genres, always with musical interest, and not tied to any school such as minimalism, but always something worthwhile to say.

His Whakatipua was a musical depiction of Lake Wakatipu, and its town, Queenstown.  The dramatic scenery, the busy tourist town, and the gold rush history all found a place in his musical essay.  In the early part, there was juxtaposition of pizzicato against the bowed lower instruments that was most effective.  Cohesiveness of the instruments with each other was a feature.  Lightness and lift, along with the business-speak aspect of the town seemed to be features of the inspiration.

There was vigour aplenty in the piece.  The last section returned to a more serene depiction of the landscape, as at the beginning, and called forth an atmosphere of peace and calm, before the piece petered away on a high note.

If one heard only of Anton Webern’s works his Langsamer Satz, one would have no idea of his later atonal, twelve-tone music.  This piece began with a Romantic, mellow melody and accompaniment.  There followed a fine passage with pizzicato from the first violin while the other instruments were bowed.  The mellow, somewhat chromatic  music persisted, with its rather introspective mood.  Plaintive tones arose.  This was warm-toned, vibrato-aided playing, which gave the work a richness that contrasted with the classicism of Haydn and the relative austerity of Ritchie’s composition.

In places the music reminded me of Schönberg’s Transfigured Night, composed in 1899, six years before Webern’s piece.  The programme notes state that, after commencing study with Schönberg in 1904-05, Webern began ‘producing work of structural rigour and musical cohesion, uniting meticulous craft and profound emotional expression.’  These elements were apparent in this one-movement work as was the influence of Mahler, especially in the final part of the work, of which the notes use the word ‘transcendence’.  The clarity of the music was a delight, and the ending quite magical as well as satisfying.

The major work on the programme was the Dvořák String Quartet no.14, one of the composer’s many exhilarating, cheerful, melodic compositions.  The first movement starts with an adagio that is low and sombre, beginning on the cello, followed by viola then violins.  Then an allegro appassionato breaks forth energetically, with plenty of work for all the players to do.  Again we had demonstrated such accomplished playing; they made the music glow.

The Scherzo second movement was a lively Bohemian dance, followed by a gorgeous lyrical melody.  Lento e molto cantabile was the marking for the third movement, where a calmly beautiful theme was developed.  The quiet, pensive mood took on a more solemn character after a time.  As in the first movement, the two violins sing a song while the lower pitched instruments accompany, initially with pizzicato.  The movement has an ecstatic pianissimo ending.

The opening to the Finale was quite lovely, and the movement was full of sprightly Bohemian motifs.   The cheerful and optimistic mood carried on to the triumphant ending.

The audience received it all with much enthusiastic applause and cheers, and we were granted an encore: the spirited, fast last movement of Haydn’s quartet Op. 20, no.4.  It made for a jolly ending to a first-class concert and was received with delight.



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