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Arts Festival Review: New Zealand String Quartet

Arts Festival Review: New Zealand String Quartet: Ten

Review by Nick van Dijk

New Zealand String Quartet: Ten
Schubert: Quartet in G Minor/Bb major
Alban Berg: String Quartet Opus 3
Ross Harris: The Abiding Tides (world premiere)
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 11 in F minor Opus 95 with Jenny Wollerman (soprano)

Wellington Town Hall
7 March

Programmed from the odd concept of the number ten being the year the tunes were written, a magical yet rather uneven afternoon string soiree ensued. The perspective of the musicians seemed to range from “this piece is sublime and I am hearing it for the first time shimmering from my instrument in four dimensional counterpoint” to “this piece is trite, I shall try to extract what dry witticism from its pale husk as one can manage”. Although the programming was rather mixed up, my preference was basically chronological, that is to say being for the more recent pieces.

The group themselves are remarkable, each musician channelling etherically around the centre of the sound, with jabbing clarity and much practiced incisions into the patient corpse of the great repertoire. The phrasing dovetails nicely and the personalities of each musician blend night and light into the sound they produce. Listening to the NZSQ is a similar experience to quaffing a very good tea on a very good day on the crocket lawn at government house.

The second piece by Alban Berg (1910) was absolutely outstanding as the composition and its willing string wizards stirred the bones with relish and sublime caress. The geometry of Berg’s harmonic concept was revealed afresh as a wonder of clean structure and mystic dancing animation of sound. Wellington composer Ross Harris contributed a marvellous work (2010 and long may he serve) with soprano Jenny Wollerman commandeering the texture and tonality within a strange yet captivating intonation. Vincent O’Sullivan’s lyric on this piece provided an interesting and dark little listen.

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The programme was rounded out by Beethoven's Quartet # 11 (1810) which the quartet snacked delightfully, and a piece by Schubert (1810 and the shiniest shoe), this performance turning in a dull autopsy, not at all in keeping with the earlier animation of Berg's spectral presence.

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Press releases: Classical Music Premieres at the NZIAF Chamber Music Weekend, World Premieres for New Zealand Music and Theatre
Arts Festival website: New Zealand String Quartet: Ten (includes photos)
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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