Flinders Quartet is such a well-established ensemble on the Melbourne, and indeed Australian, music scene that one might be tempted to view an evening with them as ‘just another performance’ but how wrong that would be! Thursday evening at The Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre was billed as ‘Schubert in the South’ but while Schubert headlined, the supporting acts did far more than simply make up the numbers.
A quick rearranging of the programme saw the evening begin with a new piece commissioned for the quartet by Julian Burnside AO QC and composed by Calvin Bowman – who was surely fated to compose for a string quartet with such a name! This piece really was beauty for its own sake, so lush and pastoral that the irresistible image conjured as the two movements flowed by was one of just three or four sheep (no more, no less) dotted on the most absurdly green meadow somewhere in the English countryside. I don’t know if such an idyll has ever actually existed, but for this night at least it did. The quartet played beautifully with a relaxed yet precise manner which settled the near-full house in to appreciative attention.
The second set of three pieces, by a composer who may be known, as the programme proclaimed, as the ‘Schubert of the Pampas’ but who surely was known to at least some in the audience as simply ‘Not Schubert’ was a delight, and provided a marvellous counterpoint to the Bowman. Carlos Guastavino was an Argentinean composer who revelled in creating music you could sing in the streets. The trio on display – El Sampedrino, Vidala del secadal and Romance Argentinos for two pianos, Op. 2 No. 1 Las Niñas de Santa Fe – certainly lived up to his hope. Where the Bowman flowed, Guastavino punched; this middle section was altogether more lively and playful, and was adroitly executed by the quartet with precision and wonderful understanding.
Finally, following the interval came Schubert’s String Quartet No. 15 in G major D.887. Clocking in at more than 45 minutes in 4 movements, in the assured hands of the Flinders Quartet it still managed to be over almost too soon. Switching effortlessly from restrained to dynamic, from plaintive to authoritative, from melancholy to great joy, from drama to romance, Flinders Quartet and Schubert proved themselves the most amenable of companions, working together with deftness and compassion to transport the audience through the most beautiful tonal experience to the supremely satisfying conclusion that this life really is a joyful and spirited thing.