Kuss Quartet & Naoko Shimizu reviewed in Sydney Morning Herald

Quartet finds purpose in each graceful note
September 18, 2012
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald

Gordon Kerry’s String Quintet, receiving its world premiere performances by the Kuss Quartet and Naoko Shimizu on this Australian tour, is graciously proportioned, moving through five sections that alternate reflection and rhythmic assertiveness.

Its natural demeanour is the rumination and sensibility of the first, third and fifth parts, to which the faster even-numbered sections provide spiky and energised punctuation.

Overall, it traces an evolution from even contrapuntal textures at the start to ornate plenitude in the last phase.

The musical discourse evolves continuously without direct repetition or periodisation, like prose rich in metaphor, with small unifying ideas that lend comprehensibility and succinctness. It is a strong work inviting further hearings in which nothing is overstated or artificially extended and where each idea finds its purpose and moves on.

Writing string quintets has often motivated composers to subgroup the ensemble and counterpoint these subgroups. Mozart was a master of this and, as if to demonstrate the fact, the Kuss Quartet was again joined by the viola player Naoko Shimizu at the close for Mozart’s masterly String Quintet in C major, K. 515.

The players phrased with natural flexibility and nuance, making micro-adjustments so as to capture each sentence in a single breath. The first movement was effectively brisk and graceful, while the third, an intimate dialogue between violin and viola, quickened expressively as each interpolated thoughts on the other’s statements.

Balancing the quintets were two highly distinctive quartets. Smetana’s String Quartet No. 2 in D minor has febrile volatility continuously disturbing its own balance of form with changes of direction, emblematic of the composer’s deafness.

Officium Breve in Memoriam Andreae Szervansky by the Romanian/Hungarian Gyorgy Kurtag is a remarkable essay in succinctness comprising 15 short movements, none extending more than a minute, yet each conveying, through allusion and gestural intensity, a world of expression in a single breath.

The Kuss Quartet plays with lightness, balance and sophisticated musical nuance, with no musical moment allowed to pass without nurturing its potential to trace a fleeting thought.

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