Aroha Quartet with animated, robust, delightful evening concert at St Andrew’s

Aroha String Quartet (Haihong Liu and Anne Loeser, violins; Zhongxian Jin, viola; Robert Ibell, cello)
‘Light and Dark’

Haydn: String Quartet in C, Op.76 no. 3 ‘Emperor’
Ross Carey: Elegy (Toccatina)
Shostakovich: String Quartet no.11 in F minor, Op. 122
Dvořák: String Quartet no.12 in F, Op.96 ‘American’

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 26 September 2019, 7:30 pm

It was most unfortunate that this concert had had to be rescheduled; this made it clash with another chamber music concert in the city, which was presumably responsible for the rather small audience.

Anne Loeser substituted for the regular second violinist Ursula Evans, the latter having had an injury.

The two older works on the programme had been played By this group at a St. Andrew’s lunchtime concert less than a year ago (see Lindis Taylor’s review, Middle-C, 6 December 2017.)  The Shostakovich was played at lunchtime two months ago; see Lindis’s review, Middle-C, 26 July 2018.  The Ross Carey, too, had been played before by the Aroha Quartet.  See Peter Mechen’s review of 26 October 2016.

Accuracy you expect from an experienced quartet such as the Aroha, but the animation of their playing is noteworthy, also the subtle shading of dynamics, and the warm, often mellifluous tone, and excellent balance.

The Haydn quartet’s first movement (allegro) was robust and delicate by turns as required, making for both exciting abd pleasurable listening.  The second movement is famous for the theme, which became the Austrian national anthem, and is widely used as a hymn-tune.  The four variations each feature a different soloist from the quartet.  The first variation has the second violin to the fore, its rendition of the melody embroidered by the first violin’s arpeggios and runs.  The other instruments have a rest.

The second variation features the cello, with counterpoint from the violins, and a few comments from the viola.  The playing was rich and sonorous from the cello.  The third variation is for the viola, playing a restrained version of the melody with the violins floating above, finally joined by the cello halfway through.  The first violin takes over for the last variation, with the other instruments playing a harmonic accompaniment.

The minuet and trio third movement is of a much more jolly nature.  A few hairy notes early on did not really detract from a delightful performance.  The trio, initially in a minor key, gave a complete contrast.  The repeat of the minuet brought back the bouncy theme, with its wonderful interplay of parts and instruments.  The finale is fast and dynamically varied, incorporating shades of earlier movements, mainly the first.

The piece by New Zealander Ross Carey was not long, and was written in memory of an Australian Aboriginal singer.  Its lively opening featured a repeated dotted rhythm; a perpetuum mobile with a dark melody on viola.  It moved to the second violin and then the first violin.  The cello introduced a new melody on the upper reaches of the strings.  What a different timbre this produced compared with a violin playing notes at the same pitch!  The first violin then took over this quieter section, which had a Mendelssohnian quality.  The insistent rhythm from the beginning returned, then solemn, slow passages ended this attractive work.

Shostakovich’s 11th quartet is in seven short movements, played without pauses between them.  It was written in memory of his violinist friend, Vasily Shirinsky, in 1966. The first movement is ‘Introduction – Andantino’. It began somewhat portentously; slow, chromatic phrases, glissando flourishes  on violin and cello.

After the ‘Scherzo – Allegretto’, the following ‘Recitative – Adagio’ has a harsh introduction, and features a first violin solo that includes passages of double-stopping. over the top of the other instruments’ accompaniment.  Then comes ‘Etude – Allegro’ with fast runs for first violin and cello.   Later movements introduce more dissonant chords, and restrained melody from the first violin.

Following the ironically named ‘Humoresque – Allegro’, the sixth movement ‘Elegy – Adagio’ is calm and profound, leading to the final movement, which recapitulates earlier themes.  The end comes as quite a shock (Finale – Moderato).

The popular ‘American’ Quartet by Dvořák ended the concert.  The melodic and rhythmic invention of the composer is a constant source of delight.    One of the melodies (third movement) was based on an American bird, a picture of which Robert Ibell showed the audience, and the first violinist played its song for us.

The rich opening viola solo set the tone for a joyful experience, and brought home to me how much better it is to hear a live performance rather than a recording, no matter how good the latter.  This first movement was taken at quite a spanking pace compared with other performances I have heard (allegro ma non troppo).  The melody that follows the opening section was sublime.  Then there is a repeat of the first melody, with pizzicato accompaniment, followed by a return of the second subject, with lovely harmony underpinning it.  The whole is full of delightful and even ingenious touches.

The second movement (lento) introduces a fabulous melody, which is especially so when played by cello – ravishingly beautiful, while the third movement’s molto vivace has a folksy feel to it, like a country dance in the composer’s native Bohemia, with everyone having a good time.  The harmonies were most satisfying, as was the finale: vivace ma non troppo; a very cheerful and melodic movement, even more like a country dance than the previous one.

While it was excellent for the printed programme notes to acknowledge the sources of information, I think it was a mistake to fit it into the same format as that used for the lunchtime concerts: a folded A4 sheet.  With a much longer and more substantial musical offering, the space required forced the splendid notes into a tiny font which I for one could not read in the church.  All things are possible but not all things are expedient.



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