Such a wonderful performance should not end

Sabine Meyer and the Modigliani String Quartet
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
November 9, 2011

THE end of Brahms Clarinet Quintet, Opus 115, contains one of music’s richest autumnal moments when the twilight resignation of the opening theme of the first movement quietly reasserts itself into the closing variation of the finale. It seems to recapitulate not just a musical idea but a lifetime.

When listening to Sabine Meyer and the Modigliani Quartet play this, a different kind of regret emerged, which was that this wonderful performance was about to end. Even though it was one of those Musica Viva early-evening specialties, it was the sort of playing one might wish would go on forever.

Playing an instrument of honey-coloured wood (in place of the ebony instrument used in the first half), Meyer’s sound eschewed any sense of heaviness and was rich, golden and fluid. The Modigliani Quartet matched this with subtle empathy, and although Meyer was the leading musical personality, there was a mixture of ease, attention and awareness in the ensemble ethos that nurtured individuality and distinctiveness.

It was in Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor, heard earlier, that this young quartet from France had put its quality on display, creating from the rich changeable score a vividly coherent and involving experience. Each idea was shaped and shaded with the utmost care and thoughtfulness, yet the tempos and phrases moved forward with momentum that kept the ideas fresh. It was one of the finest live performances of this work I have heard.

Ian Munro’s new clarinet quintet, Songs from the Bush, is a three-movement fantasy recalling Australian folk songs. Munro draws the listener’s attention in particular to the similarity of the migrants’ song Sixteen Thousand Miles (heard at the start of the third movement) to an Aboriginal melody sung by a six-year-old from the Walmajarri people (recorded by Alice Moyle) and heard at the close in a touching symbol of a nation with unsuspected commonalities. The work came across as snippets of ideas strung together in a sentimental way, unconcerned with fine craft, structure or the development of ideas.

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