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New Zealand String Quartet’s second Beethoven 250th Anniversary concert

By Peter Mechen, Middle C | 13 September 2020

The New Zealand String Quartet presents:

BEETHOVEN 2020 – NZSQ National Tour Programme Two –  INNOVATOR

String Quartets – Op.18 No. 2, in G Major (1801) Op. 74 in E-flat Major “Harp” (1809) Op.59 No.2, in E Minor “Razumovsky” (1808)

New Zealand String Quartet – Helene Pohl, Monique Lapins (violins), Gillian Ansell (viola), Rolf Gjelsten (‘cello)

Seatoun Village Hall and St.Christopher’s Church, Wellington

Sunday, 13th September, 2020

Though it doesn’t seem to me all that long ago that the NZSQ (well, THREE of the members of the present quartet!) were previously “wowing” us with their brilliant, uniquely engaging interpretations of Beethoven’s most significant and searching set of works, I suddenly felt, amidst the frisson of excitement and intoxication which rippled through the audience at Seatoun’s St.Christopher’s Church during Sunday’s concert, as if we had all actually been covertly harbouring a desperate need for a fresh “Beethoven update” from these players! – and, of course, what better occasion than a 250th birthday year for the composer in question in which to undertake (and celebrate!) such a renewal?

These works are, of course, iconic representations of a whole genre of music, and as such well-known to audiences everywhere – but as with the NZSQ’s previous traversal of the same music (far longer ago, incidentally, than I’d remembered), it seemed as if we were here being invited by the players to “reimagine” these sound-worlds as pertaining to the “here and now”, just as one would respond to an old friend whose by-now familiar aspects, expressions and attitudes had vigorously and healthily moved with the times! So the immediacy of contact established at the concert’s outset allowed these familiarities to lead us directly towards a freshly-minted process of rediscovery, one of the ensemble’s by-now established trademarks,.

The quartet’s strategy in grouping certain individual works together over the concert series seems to be one of thoughtfully illustrating stages in the composer’s creative process which suggest awareness, discovery and fruition. While I’m not one for being drawn to music events on the strength of their often adopting as pulicity glib (and in some cases ridiculously banal) “titles” – the recent labelling of conductor Gemma New’s NZSO concert as “Passion” I thought a particularly vacuous example of “event-speak”, for instance! – I could easily cope with the Quartet’s somewhat more apposite use of the title “Innovator” for this particular trio of works, given that, in most cases with Beethoven, his works were almost constantly breaking new ground, with even his “throwback” works such as the Eighth Symphony, the Op.110 Piano Sonata and the Op.135 String Quartet pouring new life into older forms.

Fortunately, with this group any such business is soon relegated to relative insignificance when set against the actual concert experience – one of the joys of encountering these musicians thus is listening to their freshly-conceived and invariably thoughtful remarks concerning the music they’re about to play – in this case, Helene Pohl, Rolf Gjelsten and Monique Lapins in turn gave us a number of