At 8pm on a rainy Friday evening in Chatswood’s Concourse Concert Hall, four of the country’s most respected musicians took the stage as the Australian String Quartet.
The ASQ is something of an institution within the Australian classical music scene, performing in various formations for over 30 years. In addition to their rigorous touring schedule, they run several music festivals (including an upcoming one in New Zealand from the 25th – 27th October), engage in various education programs and is the quartet in residence at the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide. When one sees the opportunity to see a quartet of this nature doing what they do best, they take it.
This particular manifestation of the ASQ has Dale Barltrop and Francesa Hiew on violins, Stephen King on viola, and guest artist Blair Harris filling in for Sharon Grigoryan on cello.
To warm up the audience, the programme begun with the delightful Sonata a Quattro no.4 in D minor by Alessandro Scarlatti, a piece light enough as to gently engage the audience but still allow the quartet to show off their abilities as individual musicians and communicators.
Following on from the Scarlatti was I Crisantemi by Puccini, an unusual work in several regards. For most people seeing Puccini’s name most likely conjures up scenes from his opera’s such as Madame Butterfly and La Boheme, so it’s certainly a surprise to see his name on the programme for a string quartet concert. One of only a handful of quartets that Puccini wrote, it was dedicated to his friend the Duke of Savoy and was reportedly composed in a single night. While one tends to appreciate Romantic era opera composers for their melodies and their humour rather than their depth, I Cristantemi is a staggeringly beautiful work and showed off the gorgeous tone of the quartet’s matching Guadagnini instruments (all built between 1743 -1784).
Rounding out the first half with Mozart’s String Quartet in D Minor (K. 575, First Prussian), it was particularly enjoyable to see how each musician’s personality manifested itself. Dale Barltrop displayed his unique ability to perform with passionate flourishes while still maintaining the cohesiveness of the quartet. Coupled with a refined steadiness from both Francesca Hiew and Stephen King, Blair Harris rounded out the quartet with the sense of freedom he brought to the music, visibly enjoying himself yet still crafting a flawless performance.
Ushered back in after some refreshments and a quick stretch, the concert resumed with Schubert’s String Quartet No.13 A minor. Titled the “Rosamunde” quartet, it’s name derives from the theme of the second movement which was originally composed for a play of the same name. It was reportedly the only quartet composed by Schubert that was performed during his lifetime. While I’m perhaps biased towards anything Schubert, the work was clearly the standout of the evening. Arguably the most interesting piece musically speaking, featuring various
recurring motifs, it also showed off the quartet’s ability to move and breathe together and to emphasise the inherently vocal quality of Schubert’s instrumental music.
With a combination of a gorgeous acoustic, instruments more than 200 years old, and exceptionally seasoned musicians, the Australian String Quartet’s concert put on by the Sydney Mozart Society was certainly one worth getting a little rain-soaked. The ASQ will be performing in Sydney throughout the rest of October in “Forever and Ever”, an exciting collobaration with the Sydney Dance Company. Don’t miss it.