St Lawrence String Quartet & Diana Doherty reviewed in the Australian

Panache and precision an unbeatable match
Murray Black, The Australian
April 19, 2012

WHEN the St Lawrence String Quartet last toured Australia in 2006, its Shostakovich readings took a brighter than usual view of his quartets. On this tour, the players again aimed to stamp their individuality on the music.

A spectacular performance of Beethoven’s Op 18, No 4 quartet was the concert’s high point. Exploding out of the blocks with emphatic attack, swift speeds and extreme dynamic contrasts, the quartet’s urgency and vigour compelled attention.

Fortunately, its intrepid enthusiasm was balanced with tight-knit ensemble, rhythmic acuity and lightness of touch. Muscular yet sensitive, impulsive yet thoughtful, the group’s dramatic interpretation pointed this early work towards the volatile world of Beethoven’s three Razumovsky quartets but still paid tribute to its classical heritage.

Opening the concert was another quartet classic, Haydn’s Op 20, No 5. Here, the ensemble’s similarly bold approach had drawbacks.

First violinist Geoff Nuttall was unable to overcome his periodically abrasive tone and unclear articulation. It also took time for the ensemble’s timbral blend to sound appealing. However, once it did, the group’s well-sustained textural clarity illuminated the fugue finale’s dense counterpoint.

Gordon Kerry is Musica Viva’s featured composer this year. Introducing his Elegy for string quartet (2007), Kerry spoke of how it was written after his mother’s death and aimed to balance joy and sadness in honouring her life.

The context was useful as Kerry’s work was unusually optimistic for an elegy. Powerful unison chords gave way to a series of delicate harmonics, fluttering trills and cascading tremolos which, in turn, evolved into evanescent swirling textures recalling Debussy and Ravel. The St Lawrence’s astute tonal variety realised Kerry’s inventive colours and wide expressive range while its scrupulous tempo and dynamic control maintained the work’s structural integrity.

For the other two pieces on the program, the quartet was joined by Australian oboist Diana Doherty. Their elegant account of the opening movement of Mozart’s Oboe Quartet elicited an audible collective sigh of delight from the audience.

It deserved it. In the opening movements, Doherty’s shapely phrasing, pleasing tone and superb breath control balanced expressive warmth and refinement. By contrast, her impressive dexterity and clarity of articulation easily surmounted the finale’s virtuosic challenges.

Matthew Hindson’s Rush (1999), which closed the concert, was originally written for guitarist Slava Grigoryan and the Goldner Quartet. Hindson’s 2002 reworking for oboe cleverly preserved its infectious energy and relentless drive while allowing Doherty to display her distinctive brilliance. Shawm-like yelps and wails and blisteringly fast repeated runs were executed with panache and precision.

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About Musica Viva Australia

Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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