Ilona Hanne, Stratford Press | 11 September 2023
This article was originally published by Stratford Press. Click here to view the original article.
Review: New Zealand String Quarter Woven Pathways tour - New Plymouth, Sunday, September 10
The intimate setting of the TSB Showplace’s Alexandra Room was the perfect location for the New Zealand String Quartet’s performance of programme two of their national tour Woven Pathways.
Programme two, titled Introspection, is described as ‘painting musical portraits of the human experience,’ and the four bows, in the hands of the talented quartet members, certainly acted as perfect paintbrushes, bringing those concepts and ideas to life throughout the programme.
The opening - Tabea Squire’s I Danced, Unseen - immediately captured the audience’s attention, with an incredible layering of sound achieved as each musician entered the area playing their instrument. They were playing music, but also playing to the audience, with gesture and expression adding extra layers to the experience.
I Danced, Unseen is based on the composer’s own memories of dancing as child to music, and the work perfectly captures this - bringing to life the joy and freedom of a small child experiencing music and moving freely, unlimited by the opinions of others.
The music is spirited, full of life and joy and beautifully playful. The musicians play together seamlessly and, despite the precision and pace the piece requires, also seem to be having plenty of fun as they take the audiences on a whimsical journey, with parts of the piece reflecting an upbeat Celtic style that serves as a valuable reminder these beautiful string instruments are just as at home playing a jig as they are in a symphony.
Before moving into the second piece of the afternoon - Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No 6 - Monique Lapins (violin II) gives the audience a little insight into the first piece, explaining how it was originally performed with dancers sharing the stage. The explanation is nice, but almost unnecessary, given how clearly the four musicians painted those dancers in front of us with their own movement, expression and, of course, flawless playing.
The order of music in this performance is well-chosen and nicely ordered, with the childlike joy of the first piece giving way to the melancholic mesto section of Bartok’s sixth, and final, string quartet. The musicians do true justice to the wonderful expressive dissonance Bartok was well-known for. The starting mesto, played exquisitely by Gillian Ansell on the viola, draws the audience in, and as the other instruments join in, the tone becomes amplified, picking up volume, but keeping the mesto feeling for a while.
While each of the four movements in this piece begin with a mesto, they then move individually into other styles, with a clear march - or marcia - coming through in the second movement. Rolf Gjelsten’s cello playing takes centre stage in this part for a while, while Gillian’s strumming of the viola once again reminds the audience just how versatile these instruments can be when in the hands of such talented musicians.
While this work of Bartok is much-loved by violists, it certainly is also clearly loved by Helene Pohl (violin I) and second violinist Monique Lapins as well, as they were clearly enjoying playing the piece, as was Rolf. It is testament to the talent of this quartet that the melancholy and anger of Bartok’s composition doesn’t make for a completely depressing piece (even though Bartok himself was unable to end it with an optimistic uplift of mood as he had in other works), but rather they give their audience a hauntingly beautiful performance that is incredibly moving.
After a short, well-deserved break, the quartet return to the stage for the final piece - Franz Schubert’s A Minor Quartet, often known as the Rosamunde Quartet as it originated from incidental music Schubert wrote for a play of the same name.
Once again, the four musicians bring the composer’s work to life, filling the room with images as clear as if they had been painted as well as played. In this piece, Schubert combines a sense of hopeful yearning with gentle despair, with a rhythmic urgency placed under the more wistful, hopeful melody. This piece of music rises and falls beautifully, with each instrument clearly heard and playing its own unique part. A sense of folk music or even a Gypsy style dance comes through, making for a gentler piece than most other Schubert compositions. It’s the perfect piece to end the performance on, and the final applause is deservedly rapturous.
Before the final piece, however, each musician introduced the audience to their instrument, with the youngest instrument being Monique’s 1784 Lorenzon Storioni violin, on loan from David Duncan Craig and the Lily Duncan Trust. Helene Pohl’s violin was made in Venice in 1730 by Pietro Guarneri, while Rolf’s 1705 Francesco Gofiller cello was also made in Venice. The oldest instrument, on loan to Gillian Ansell from The Adam Foundation, is a 1619 Nicolo Amati violin.
The stories of these historic instruments aren’t fully known through the years, and while one can only wonder at who may have played them in the past, and what what works and where, I think it is fair to say that in the hands of these four musicians, the instruments are living up to everything they were first made for.
Bravo, NZSQ, for bringing such a wonderful tour, and such incredibly talented and passionate musicians, to Taranaki. And please, encore.
This article first appeared in the Stratford Press on 11 September 2023. Click here to view the original article.