A conversation in perfect pitch – Sabine Meyer & Modigliani String Quartet in the Sydney Morning Herald
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
15 November 2011
MUSICA VIVA finished its 2011 season with an inspired pairing of one of the world’s finest clarinettists, Sabine Meyer, who has visited these shores several times, and a brilliant, musically thoughtful young ensemble, the Modigliani String Quartet, making its first Australian appearance.
The reason for the latter’s name is not explained – one hopes they manage to share the Italian artist’s quest for elusive beauty without adopting his chaotic, tragic lifestyle.
Beauty did not elude them in the slow movement, or indeed anywhere, in Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, K. 581: one rarely hears anything so perfect. There was a focus on achieving a shape for each phrase undistorted by outside imperatives or distractions so the lines simply grew to create their own pure form and expressive shape.
Underlying everything was a transparency and equality of sound, lucidly harmonising the elegant, airborne fluidity of Meyer’s supremely smooth sound with the glowing richness of the Modigliani’s fine set of old instruments from the golden age.
Before the interval the players repeated Ian Munro’s clarinet quintet Songs from the Bush, heard in their earlier concert, which draws together folk songs from a variety of sources including John Meredith’s Folksongs of Australia and a Walmajari children’s song recorded by ethnomusicologist Alice Moyle in 1964.
Munro places this at the opening of the first movement and the close of the finale, using motives and chance similarities to draw in other melodies as though on a trip through half-remembered tunes.
The discursive conversational style of the first movement of Schumann’s String Quartet in A major, Opus 41, No. 3 thrived on the Modigliani Quartet’s focused musical attention, like four sophisticated speakers picking up each other’s ideas, agreeing, interrupting and contradicting themselves in a quest for something undefined.
Even more impressive was the coherence they achieved in the changeable textures of the set of variations of the second movement. Its succession of textures can sometimes sound disjointed yet here, as again in the scurrying finale, the ideas were forceful, rhythmically well chiselled and utterly convincing.