Quintessence: The New Zealand String Quartet with James Dunham (viola), Charles Luney Auditorium, September 24
Patrick Shepherd / The Press, Christchurch
Capping off a day of three concerts showcasing string quintets, this one had it all - first-rate playing, two great works from the repertoire and a new work that shone. The New Zealand String Quintet with the addition of James Dunham on viola, were on top form. My immediate thoughts were around the quartet's "new" second violinist Monique Lapins and what she brings to the ensemble. Replacing a well-established group member is not easy but first impressions would indicate that she is not only a perfect fit but also the lines of communication within the group are better than ever. In her movements, blending of tone, providing balance for Helene Pohl's strong leadership and the way she helps the internal lines coalesce, I'd say she is the ideal match. The same could be said for James Dunham and it was clear that he was not only a seamless addition but he also enjoyed playing with the quartet. When their lines were twinned, his tone blended perfectly with Gillian Ansell's, and that extra richness the second viola provided was always well-defined, never muddy. Salina Fisher's Torino: Echoes on putorino improvisations by Rob Thorne provided a fitting musical link between the melancholy Mozart that preceded it and the tumultuous Brahms that followed. I have to declare my hand here in that I have known her for many years and I've always felt what the audience heard tonight, that her quite unique voice is a force to be reckoned with on the composing scene. The interest Torino generated had many in the audience going on stage during the interval to look at her score, asking themselves how on earth she annotated these remarkable textures. The quartet did a great job of presenting this exciting new work, setting out and explaining the sonic palette prior to the performance so the audience could grasp what lay ahead. Mozart's String Quintet no.4 in G minor and Brahms' Quintet no.2 in G major are two strikingly contrasting works. The players really brought out the yearning and overriding sadness in the Mozart with a restless feeling that was barely alleviated in the subtle playing of the Adagio ma non troppo and ensuing Adagio. The Brahms was a great way to conclude the programme. Fullblooded, sumptuous textures and intense harmonies with a gypsy flourish to round it all off, this was powerhouse playing, especially coming at the end of a full day. The balance was spot on and the bravura that came when required pulled out all the stops - truly exciting and inspiring playing.