The Tokyo String Quartet arrive in Sydney this weekend for their final Australian tour. Since their formation in 1969 at the prestigious Julliard School of Music, the ensemble have earned an enviable reputation as the grand masters of the string quartet form.
In this video, the Tokyo String Quartet perform Haydn’s String Quartet in G major – their final performance at WGBH’s Fraser Performance Studio, Boston, presented by Celebrity Series of Boston.
The Tokyo String Quartet perform in Australia from 27th May to 12 June. For information on their final Australian tour, please visit http://www.musicaviva.com.au/tokyosq
Tokyo String Quartet | Final Australian Tour
27 May – 12 June 2013
After more than 40 years the undisputed grand masters of the string quartet now bid a graceful farewell. Playing a famous collection of Stradivarius instruments, their last programs ever for Australia include some of the pieces which cemented their stellar reputation. Do not miss this opportunity to celebrate the final performances by a landmark ensemble of our time.
For performances, tickets and more information, click here: http://bit.ly/Zhpxko
Melody and spirit make up for hazardous moments
April 25, 2013
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
Mahler’s Piano Quartet movement in A minor is a short but intense student work, written at age 16, showing precocious gravitation towards tristesse and tragedy. Not yet present is the starkness of contrast to set this mood off against irony or terror, nor the genius for formal drama of his symphonies. The string players of the Morgenstern Trio established expressive earnestness right from the start, playing with smooth balance and good pitch until the violin cadenza.
In Beethoven’s Trio in E flat, Opus 70, No.2, their playing had commitment and moments of unfettered spirit, and the tempo of the first movement was persuasive, allowing for passages of grace. The second was more emphatic and less consistent, and from here until the interval the instrumental and tonal control was varied.
Ross Edwards’ Piano Trio is related to his Guitar Concerto, Arafura Dances, for the Darwin International Guitar Festival, and in the program for the Trio, Edwards wrote that he had in mind “sunlight sparkling on the Arafura Sea”. The Trio was written for the Melbourne Chamber Music Competition but sunlight sparkling on the Yarra sounds less probable. In pre-concert talk, Edwards was more candid, admitting that when writing the Trio he probably didn’t give the sparkling Arafura Sea a moment’s thought. The work features an expansive slow movement and closes with a dance-like finale in Edwards’ Maninya, ending abruptly, even prematurely.
For Schumann’s tautly scored, expansively structured Piano Quartet in E flat major, Opus 74, the trio was joined by violist Christopher Moore. The fleetness of the scherzo (the second movement) was not without hazards of ensemble, but Schumann’s melody had warmth and broad appeal.
Intense start for Morgenstern Trio
Mark Coughlan, The Australian
April 22, 2013
It was in music of brooding intensity that the Morgenstern Trio was most impressive in this opening concert of a national tour for Musica Viva.
This young, prize-winning, German piano trio came to prominence in the 2007 Melbourne Chamber Music Competition and has gone on to win accolades around the world. Joined by Australian violist Christopher Moore, the concert featured two works for piano trio and two for piano quartet.
The program began with Mahler’s only surviving chamber music piece; a piano quartet movement that seems to have sprung from the influence of Brahms and Schumann and is quite unlike the mature works for which he is known. A restrained but highly charged performance created a powerful impact, imbuing the music with an undercurrent of simmering restlessness.
Beethoven’s piano trio op 70 no 2 is an unusual and striking work and proved to be a perfect companion piece to the Mahler. The trio excelled in characterising its shifting personalities, playing with finely-honed ensemble and a keen sense of musical drama. The intimate moments were delivered with delicate finesse while the climaxes rang with symphonic grandeur.
After interval, the Piano Trio by Australian composer Ross Edwards seemed a little out of place in a program of 19th-century German romanticism. Perhaps sensing this anomaly, the trio performed the work in an overtly romantic style, creating a luscious sound world but, especially in the first movement, lacking some rhythmic precision. After a deeply expressive, beautifully played slow movement, the finale came across as somewhat unsatisfying, structurally and musically.
With Schumann’s grand piano quartet, the ensemble returned joyfully to their heartland repertoire. Smiling at each other in between movements, the players were clearly relishing this opulent, surging music. Tempos were on the brisk side but clarity and detail were never lost, especially in the quicksilver second movement where pianist Catherine Klipfel impressed with her agility and crisp touch.
There were times, however, when more tonal weight from the piano would have provided greater breadth to the overall sound and occasionally violinist Stefan Hempel under-projected his part, leaving some gaps in the texture. Both Moore and cellist Emanuel Wehse played with a fluid, warm tone, their sensitive lyricism used to great advantage in an understated but lyrically intense slow movement. A slightly unsettled yet highly spirited encore by Brahms was a fitting conclusion to this exciting performance.
Unanimity of thought and action
Neville Cohn, West Australian
22 April 2013
From first note to last, an account by the visiting Germany-based Morgenstern Trio and Australian violist Christopher Moore of Mahler’s one-movement Piano Quartet was presented with such understanding of mood and tonal colouring that it sounded more like a form of communion between musicians and composer than mere communication between players and audience.
This happens only very rarely and is all the more significant for that. As ever, on hearing this engaging music, one marvelled at the creative maturity of Mahler who wrote it while still a student in his mid-teens.
Such was the unanimity of thought and action in evidence throughout the evening, that one sensed that these extraordinarily gifted players were drawing on a shared musical consciousness. This was abundantly apparent, too, in Beethoven’s Trio in E flat, opus 70 no 2. Unlike the often athletic writing of opus 70 no 1 (the so-called “Ghost Trio”), opus 70 no 2 is couched in gently reflective, almost introverted, terms. Its subtle essence was captured by the players like a moth in the gentlest of hands. I savoured every moment.
More, perhaps, than any other Australian composer, Ross Edwards’ music bears so unmistakable a musical fingerprint, that its style is instantly recognisable. The Morgenstern players did his Piano Trio proud. In the opening allegretto, Emanuel Wehse’s cello line was like a stream of golden tone. The central meditative movement was a little miracle of expressive warmth that was a perfect lead-in to a finale informed by an insouciance that sounded right.
In 1842, Robert Schumann felt overshadowed by the increasing celebrity of his famous pianist wife, Clara. He sank into a deep depression, exacerbated by sessions of heavy drinking. Despite this, Schumann succeeded in producing a stream of inspired chamber music that year, including the Piano Quartet in E flat.
Notwithstanding some occasionally too-emphatic piano playing in the third movement, the musicians shaped to the music like finest claret to a goblet. I particularly admired the second movement and a scintillating, ultra-nimble finale that prompted a thoroughly deserved ovation.
This first-rate concert deserved a much bigger audience.
If he could meet any historical figure, Christopher Moore says, he would probably choose Richard Strauss, or perhaps Leonard Bernstein.
“I was reading about Mahler’s illness and death – they all had such sad lives! Beethoven must have been a very interesting character – the madness and sadness in his last letters. Perhaps Schumann was mad. Weren’t they all? They all had some spark of brilliance that made them a little bit different from everybody else. It’s just a shame that we never get to meet them.
“I’d love to have had the chance to play under Strauss, though anybody who conducted the way he did now would probably never get a gig. That kind of old-world, gentlemanly manner wouldn’t put bums on seats.
“The composer-conductor thing is pretty rare nowadays.”
Today’s audiences, says Moore, expect to be entertained. But that still leaves a lot of latitude for creative concert programming.
“There needs to be some sort of balance. Look at this programme here! There’s the Ross Edwards, there’s Mahler, Schumann and Beethoven. That’s quite a huge range.
“In the Australian Chamber Orchestra, we’ve included the music of Xenakis in concert programmes. And what I love about the audience reaction is that it’s incredibly polarising. Some people absolutely love it, and others vehemently hate it. But it doesn’t stop them from coming. And at least they’re talking about it. Whether you like it or not, it’s got something that burns an impression on your memory, even if you can’t remember the composer’s name.”
It’s not only hard-core modern repertoire that makes for a radical audience experience, Moore continues. Older repertoire also has its extremes; it is simply a matter of find a way to express that today.
“Even if you’re playing mainstream repertoire, you can find a way to say something through the music that really touches people,” he says.
“Toscanini said, ‘Tradition is the fading memory of the last bad performance.’
“I was recently given an old compilation of music for violin and piano. And if you look under the heading ‘Modern Composers’ you find Brahms and Massenet. It’s good to be reminded that back in their day they were modern composers. That’s the real challenge – to play all music as if it’s being heard for the first time.”
© Shirley Apthorp
The chamber music landscape is littered with piano trios and string quartets. Piano quartets, as a formation, do not feature. To turn a piano trio into a quartet you need a viola, which is where Christopher Moore comes in.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s principal violist is happy to be the missing link between the German-based Morgenstern Trio and Schumann and Mahler’s piano quartets.
“I haven’t actually done that much piano quartet repertoire,” Moore reflects. “I’ve played a lot of string quartets, but the piano is a different beast. You have to play in such a different way that it keeps you on your toes.”
Though he has not yet met the trio, Moore lauds the opportunities afforded by modern technology. You Tube has taken him into the Morgenstern’s rehearsal spaces and daily lives, and enabled him to watch them talk and play.
“I feel as if I know them already. They seem like a little family – they clearly know each other very well, and get along brilliantly. It will be a new experience for me, even though I’ve played in a number of piano quartets over the years, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
It is some time since Moore has played Schumann’s opus 47 Piano Quartet, and Mahler’s one-movement rarity is new to him.
“It’s great to play some repertoire that’s fresh for me,” he says.
“The romantic repertoire is where I feel the most comfortable – it seems intuitive to me – so I seldom find myself not having fun, especially with Schumann and Mahler, Strauss and Ravel.
“Mahler is a symphonic composer, and the piano can sound like an entire orchestra in the right hands – I guess that’s what Mahler is drawn to. And the Schumann – of course I love the music. I guess I’m a romantic at heart. But I don’t behave like one!”
Both assertions seem faintly surprising. How DOES a romantic behave?
“I dunno,” sighs Moore. “Sort of swoons around and sniffs the flowers, that sort of thing. But we don’t have time to do that in our lives. The only opportunity you get is when your imagination is swept away while you listen to or play this music. It gives you an opportunity to escape the real world for a while.
“Classical repertoire is pure joy, but romantic music is so much more multi-faceted. They’re pushing the boundaries with harmony and rhythm.”
© Shirley Apthorp