This was the last concert of the Sixty Seventh year of the Mozart Society and it was appropriate that, in contrast to recent programmes, we were treated to works familiar to many listeners.
The Enigma Quartet has been playing for twelve years and has become a feature of the Sydney classical music scene. Marianne Broadfoot, violin won the Australian Concerto Competition in 2004, has studied in Austria and has toured with the ACO. Kerry Martin, violin, hails from New Zealand, where she won the Concerto competition in 2001 and has taught at the Sydney Conservatorium. Shelley Soerensen, viola, has just returned from two years’ playing in Germany and plays with the SSO and as a soloist with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Rowena Macneish, cello, is the “baby” of the group having joined in 2011. She has played with the SSO and ACO and is a founder member of the Sydney Omega Ensemble.
We first heard Mozart’s Quartet in B Flat, K 458. One of the later Viennese Quartets, it is nick-named “The Hunt” although the reason for this is lost on modern audiences and would have been on the composer. The first movement, admittedly, is in a jaunty 6/8 time while the Minuet that follows is interrupted by an intricate trio. The Adagio in the sub-dominant E Flat exudes peacefulness while the Finale is a Rondo based on a folk song familiar to Mozart. A concise work handled accurately by the ensemble.
I first heard Dvorak’s American Quartet on the car radio having missed the introduction. As always, I tried to identify the work but couldn’t guess the composer, being sure that it was American. Dvorak had only been in the States for two years (he wrote the piece in two weeks) yet was able to convey the character of the country without resorting to copying native melodies and it is difficult to see how he achieved this as the Pentatonic scale used is prominent in the music of many other countries.
The opening theme of the Allegro is indeed modelled on the beginning of a quartet by fellow Czech, Smetana, and rolls along with the American countryside that he often walked in. A reflective melody in the Adagio starts with the cello to be taken over by the first violin. In the Scherzo, the motif in the higher register is based on the song of the Scarlet Tanager, a local bird as witnessed by the composer’s diary. A rollicking Finale has a polka-like coda.
Again the Quartet entered fully into the spirit of the composition and in this case, there was no doubting the authenticity of the title.
Timothy Nankervis joined the group for Schubert’s Quintet in C major. He is a long-standing member of the SSO and frequently plays as a soloist in his own right. This piece was, along with the three last piano Sonatas and two piano Trios written in the last year of the composer’s life, and is unusual in including a second cello rather than the usual second viola. It is a brilliant and masterful work with no equal in its genre. It is as if Schubert, aware of his imminent death, was able to rise to a higher plane and it is sad that he was never able to hear it performed.
The first movement proceeds rapidly from tuneful to dramatic, from major to minor and from happy to troubled. One small quibble- I find the first repeat part of the character of the movement but there are, of course, time restraints in what is a long work. The second movement is probably the most famous with the cellos dominating, one pizzicato, one legato. Even here, the tranquility is interrupted by a stormy episode with violent arpeggios on the second cello. A more exuberant Scherzo is interrupted by a contrasting very slow Trio with all instruments playing in their lower registers. The final Rondo opens with a Hungarian style theme developed with numerous modulations and changes in time signature ending with an ebullient presto and a warning penultimate minor chord.
The group clearly enjoyed itself playing this difficult piece and so did the audience who applauded strongly and went home anticipating next year’s programme.