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Review: Moving classical concert ‘nears perfection’

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

NZ String Quartet with James Campbell (clarinet) Old St Johns Sunday, May 18.

Margot Hannigan, Nelson Mail, Nelson, NZ

James Campbell is no stranger to Nelson, having performed chamber music with the New Zealand String Quartet for 11 years. Making this concert so memorial was the performers’ musical rapport, mutual understanding and sheer enjoyment of one another’s company.

It was the last concert of their New Zealand tour and they displayed a perfection of ensemble playing.

Campbell is a remarkably good clarinettist. His music flows forth gracefully and without inhibition. His body sways with comfortable balance and ease. Even when sustaining long notes in the upper register, he dances. What an amazing pair of lungs he has.

The first quintet by Carl Maria von Weber was both operatic and fun, full of dramatic contrasts and meaningful dialogue.

It was satisfying to listen to the musicians with the cellist unusually in the centre of the group. Especially enjoyable were the fast rhythmic passages in the Menuetto that were echoed by the cello and the clarinettist’s virtuosic range and speed. He led the final movement, Rondo Allegro, with an energetic, galloping rhythm, and the strings matched the pace perfectly with flurrying up-bows and exciting fortzandos. The audience applauded wildly.

The quartet returned to the stage alone to perform Brahms’ third and final string quartet in the same key, B flat, a work challenging for its passionate intensity, cross-rhythms, sustained crescendos and emotional diversity. It is in turn exuberant, declamatory and full of unrequited love.

The dramatic viola solo in the trio was unforgettable. Gillian Ancell played with controlled fullness of emotion.

The clarinettist returned for Mozart’s much-loved Quintet in A. Written in 1789 when the clarinet had not long been an accepted orchestral instrument, Mozart’s Quintet displayed its incredible range of expression and inspired later composers.

The Larghetto is one of Mozart’s most beautiful movements. The strings are muted to allow the clarinet to sing out. It was played with delicacy and finesse. Helene Pohl, with characteristic sensitivity and subtlety, handed on the melody.

The Allegretto with its many variations seemed like a final flourish in which these musical friends were reluctant to part company. The audience were ecstatic. This was as near to perfect as any concert I have heard.

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