St Lawrence String Quartet & Diana Doherty reviewed in artsHub

St Lawrence String Quartet & Diana Doherty
By Tomas Boot, artsHub, April 24, 2012

There can be something very comforting about a string quartet, and the Canadian St Lawrence String Quartet is no exception: there’s a sense, no matter how illogical it may be, that, compared to a symphony, the players of a quartet are far more acutely aware of the audience’s presence in the room, and that the audience is more aware that they’re aware, and so on. All this is a rather roundabout way of saying that string quartets are more ‘intimate’, of course, but there’s more to it than that, and whatever that more is, is what was floating around the City Recital Hall on the night I attended Musica Viva’s latest concert series. In addition to all this, however, was the added bonus of hearing two Australian works, both relatively new (though not premieres), and, as an added bonus to the bonus, both Australian works were well worth this critic’s time.

We began with Haydn’s String Quartet in F minor, op 20 no 5, in one of the most enervating renditions of Haydn this critic has heard in quite some time, played with much gusto by the four players, many a pair of legs projecting out into space and being pulled back in again, shoes thumped on the floor, the long hair of one of the violinists flying around his face. It was a performance that brought to the surface what often lies stagnant underneath.

Gordon Kerry’s Elegy for string quartet came next after an introduction by the composer himself. The piece, commissioned by the Australian Youth Orchestra in 2007, was a heartfelt and moving tribute to Kerry’s mother, and, while lacking the size and scope of, say, Nigel Westlake’s Missa Solis last year – a requiem for his son Eli – it nevertheless was a pleasure to listen to. Alternating between mournfulness and forced levity, its ten minute duration held the attention (and then some) for the entirety.

Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F major, K370 finished the first half, Diana Doherty (principal oboist for the Sydney Symphony) subbing in for one of the violinists. The performance was refreshing and vitalising and came as a perfect antidote to the grief of the piece by Kerry beforehand.

After the interval we were treated to Beethoven’s String Quartet no 4 in C minor, op 18 no 4. Here the quartet was not as energetic as previously, but this is not to say that the piece lacked in power – indeed, the change of style was well suited to the demands of the work.

Last was Matthew Hindson’s Rush, for oboe and string quartet, a work based on his piece of the same name except for guitar and string quartet. What Hindson has done, as he informed us in his introduction to the piece, is to transform the guitar’s part into one for an oboe, adding and detracting from the quartet’s textures when needs be. The piece is frenetic in all the good ways, and displayed Doherty’s skills to the highest.

An encore was called for, and it was given: a short tango by Hindson, a world premiere, no less, and one that was vociferously appreciated by the audience. A fine concert, finely realised.


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