A memorable concert from the Aroha Quartet: exciting Ligeti and a Beethoven masterpiece

Aroha Quartet (Haihong Liu and Konstanze Artmann – violins, Zhongxian Jin – viola, Robert Ibell – cello)

Mozart: String Quartet No. 17 in B flat K 548 ‘Hunt’
Ligeti: String Quartet No. 1 ‘Metamorphoses Nocturnes’
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 13 in B flat Op. 130

St Andrew’s on the Terrace

Tuesday 7 May 2019, 7:30 pm

With concerts by two string quartets, the New Zealand String Quartet and the Aroha Quartet within two days, the Brodsky quartet on the 20th and the Kiwa quartet on the 26th of May seems like a festival of string quartets. With so much music, it is the works that challenge that makes these concerts memorable.

The Aroha Quartet played Mozart and Beethoven, beautiful but familiar music, but it was György Ligeti’s First Quartet that stood out and made one think. The piece was written in 1953/54. Ligeti was 30 years old. He had survived the war in which he served in a Jewish labour service unit, while both his brother and father died in concentration camps. In the years after the war he studied with renowned teachers at the Budapest Music Academy, Kadosa, Veress, and in particular, Kodaly. He was making a name for himself as a composer of choral pieces and settings of folk songs. His early works were often an extension of the musical language of Bartók. But some of his pieces could not be played under the Communist regime of Hungary: too difficult, too cerebral. His First String Quartet was not performed until he fled Hungary in 1956 and settled in Vienna. He called the piece Metamorphoses; it is a transfiguration, the changes of a four note theme, G, A, G sharp, A sharp over a chromatic bass played by the cello into a series of variations like distinct segments. These segments include vigorous rhythmic sections, peasant dances with heavy stomping of boots, passages that recall Bartók’s night music, gentle, melodic, surreal There are huge dynamic contrasts, barbaric dance themes, humour, sarcasm, buzzing mosquito passages. At the end the piece returns to the four notes it started with. It is an exciting work and we should be grateful to the Aroha Quartet for introducing it to us.

Beethoven’s Quartet No. 13 in B flat is a colossal piece in six movements. It encompasses a whole world of emotions, from the noble opening Adagio followed by an energetic contrasting section, then to the simple children’s playground theme of the rollicking Presto in which voices taunt each other, there is humour, there is the courtly dance of the Andante, the jolly rhythm of the Alla danza tedesca, and ultimately the quartet culminates in the haunting Cavatina that brought tears to Beethoven’s and probably many listeners’ eyes, which is finally resolved in a light-hearted Finale. The great architecture of this work is assembled from simple, at times naïve parts. The Aroha Quartet played it with passion, with beautiful tone and meticulous clear phrasing.

The concert opened with Mozart’s ‘Hunt’ Quartet, one of the half dozen he dedicated to Haydn. Although it shares the key with the Beethoven work, it comes from a different world. Written in 1784, it reflects the last years of the ancien régime, a perceived stability in which all was orderly. It is a beautiful work and The Aroha Quartet captured its spirit.

This was a memorable concert and the Aroha Quartet are one of the great musical assets of our city.



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