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Review: A concert that spans centuries

Dangerous Liaisons New Zealand String Quartet Church Road Winery, Taradale

Music by Janacek, Jack Body and Mendelssohn. Sunday, August 27

Peter Williams    /    Napier

The New Zealand String Quartet, now in its 30th year, has a reputation for innovative and adventurous programming for its concerts. This programme, Dangerous Liaisons, bore that out with the inclusion of music of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, described as "filled with passion, yearning, joy and heartache". String Quartet No 2, Intimate Letters by Janacek, portrays in music a constant stream of more than 700 love letters written by the composer to a married woman, Kamila, 37 years his junior. An astonishing range of expressive nuance was conveyed to the audience throughout each of the four movements, through a variety of bowing, frequent changes in tempi and vivid contrasts in dynamic levels. Highlights were the many moments of prominence for the viola, skilfully executed by Gillian Ansell, and the third movement, which is believed to be a musical portrait of Kamila, with Helene Pohl's beautifully played opening violin melody. The 21st century work, Saetas by New Zealand composer Jack Body, painted four scenes of a religious procession in Spain. A somewhat esoteric work, but the Spanish influence was clearly heard when Rolf Gjelsten swapped his cello for a piano accordion, and when Helene Pohl multi-tasked by playing a drum with a foot pedal at the same time as playing her violin. The sound produced by playing at times close to the bridge, multi-stopped chords and some vocal sounds, all helped produce the fire and passion of flamenco songs, while the range of expression, variety of rhythm and the almost hypnotic sound of the sustained accordion sounds, were especially effective in the third movement. Mendelssohn wrote his Quartet No 2 in A minor, Op 13 when still a teenager and experiencing love for the first time. From the opening three-note motif, passed from player to player and then permeating much of the work, the performance captured all the deeply emotional sentiment contained in the work. Mendelssohn was influenced by the late quartets of Beethoven and this was well communicated in the playing of the fugal section in the Adagio movement and in the playing of the solo violin in the final bars of the last movement. A whimsical tribute by the quartet to long-time supporter Peter Hubscher, with the players swapping instruments, was played at the end, making a perfect close to the concert.

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