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Review: New Zealand string quartet a 'singular event'

Reviewed by John Button (Stuff)

New Zealand String Quartet with Jenny Wollerman (soprano)

St. Mary of the Angels, March 10

We don't hear Schoenberg's important String Quartet No. 2 very often; the last time I heard it was in 2011 by the same artists as here, so to experience it again by such authoritative performers, was a singular event. The work itself dates from 1908 and moves from very late, dense, romanticism in the first movement, to a full atonality in the last two. And here we experience the unusual involvement of a soprano, singing, in highly angular fashion, words from poems by Stefan George.

The string quartet is made up of Helene Pohl, left, as first violin, Monique Lapins, second violin, Gillian Ansell on viola, and Rolf Gjelsten on cello. The work is a musical response to dramatic events in the composer's life, and it caused quite a stir at its premiere. Schoenberg's pupil Alban Berg,  17 years later, also included a soprano in his Lyric Suite; a work that for all its full-blown use of Schoenberg's 12 tone system still manages to sound lyrical, if in a tough, rather bracing, way. Both works receive superbly responsive, technically sharp, performances, with the soprano Jenny Wollerman contributing with her usual surefooted understanding of the modern repertoire. Unfortunately, because the concert was clearly going to run well past its advertised length, I was forced to miss the final piece - the 2012 The Abiding Tides by Ross Harris to words by Vincent O'Sullivan. However, the Schoenberg and Berg works made a full, satisfying, musical meal on their own.

Original article can be found here.

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