Brentano String Quartet reviewed in the West Australian

NEVILLE COHN
The West Australian
May 27, 2011

The minuet from Mozart’s String Quartet in D minor, K421 could well be the only music ever written by a composer while simultaneously attending to his wife in labour. Perhaps this is why it sounds so much more nervy and intense than most other minuets. But the central trio section was a gentle delight, a release of tension, before a return to the first theme.

It was exquisitely played by the visiting Brentano Quartet. Earlier, we heard magical playing in the andante movement, profoundly expressive without for a moment lapsing into affectation; in short, the essence of good taste.

Ian Munro is a musician of many parts. A laureate of the Leeds International Piano Competition, he is also an imaginative and skilled composer. Certainly, he opened intriguing new doors in his String Quartet No 1, subtitled From an Exhibition of Australian Woodcuts. I particularly liked the first movement inspired by two pictures, one of which – The Gust of Wind – depicts wild confusion and panic as a gale scatters a bundle of papers blown from the grasp of a figure who looks the essence of haplessness. All this is very cleverly suggested in Munro’s score, a fine foil for much more introspective, beautifully written musings in a central movement which is a response to linocuts of magnolias. The finale is the embodiment of energy; it unfolded lickety-split.

Munro’s piece deserves to find a place in the standard repertoire.

Although the Brentano musicians are relatively young in years, they bring to their performances a depth of understanding one more usually associates with ensembles that have been working together for decades. This was especially evident in an account of Beethoven’s opus 135. The performance was the quintessence of profundity, an impression heightened by near-perfectly blended sonorities and a sure sense of style. Replete with minute detail but without losing sight of the work’s overarching design, here was a performance to cherish. Bravissimo!

There were also four miniatures by Orlando Gibbons and William Byrd. But for all the beauty of nuance lavished on these little pieces, I’d have far rather listened to them played by a consort of viols which would have given an authenticity of timbre impossible to achieve on instruments of a much later era.

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