Brentano String Quartet reviewed in Sydney Morning Herald

Quartet plays the line in concert of simple beauty and musical clarity
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
May 25, 2011

FROM the first two notes, it was clear this was not to be an ordinary performance of Mozart’s great D minor String Quartet, K. 421.

The first two notes are two Ds an octave apart and rather than assuming a perfunctory seriousness and giving the downbeats an authoritarian shove, Mark Steinberg, first violinist in the Brentano Quartet, played them with expressive shape that pointed the music towards the culmination and point of the phrase, creating an interest in what was to come.

It is a simple principle – don’t play two points, play the line that connects them – yet it is surprising how often it is forgotten.

The Brentano Quartet’s collective musical thought was informed by such clarity of musical purpose.

Their other virtues were care with intonation, creating luminous moments, and an unforced approach to tone production, making their point by persuasiveness rather than by overbearing emphasis.

They brought to the second movement of the Mozart a formality and precision interrupted by Mozart’s surprising harmonic changes as though the mind had wandered into reflection.

The concert’s last work, Beethoven’s final quartet in F major, Opus 135, had comparable transparency of thought, so the multiplicity of ideas in the first movement unfolded in abundance.

There were no false dramatics in the finale, where Beethoven creates a union of opposites – profundity and capriciousness – with his motto idea ”Muss es Sein? Es muss sein!” (Must it be? It must be!). The tragic and the comic were expounded with care, sitting alongside one another in unexplained enigma.

The slow movement unfolded in simple beauty, the transcendent climax stealing up upon the listener unawares.

Ian Munro’s String Quartet No. 1: From an Exhibition of Australian Woodcuts takes its inspiration from an exhibition in Ballarat, the composer’s home town, and could be seen as a continuation of the tradition of linking music and image.

The Brentano Quartet also included string ensemble music from before the quartet age, creating rich thick sounds of pristine evenness in two In nomines by Byrd.

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