Kuss Quartet & Naoko Shimizu reviewed in The Australian

From Berlin, a masterclass in string-driven subtlety and nuance
Murray Black, The Australian
19 September 2012

The Berlin-based Kuss Quartet is making its Australian and Musica Viva debut with this tour. The most striking feature of its playing is a smoothly integrated, immaculately polished ensemble timbre. Subtlety and nuance was preferred to emphatic gestures and violent contrasts.

The only work in this concert that would have benefited from a slightly more aggressive performance was Czech composer Bedrich Smetana’s second string quartet (1883). Written as Smetana was dying from an excruciating brain disease, this work is an anguished personal confessional.

The Kuss Quartet’s richly coloured sonorities captured the quartet’s impassioned soulfulness and their rhythmic verve characterfully inflected its myriad dance rhythms. However, its reading needed more urgency to fully realise the moments of febrile intensity and explosive rage.

Elsewhere, the group’s approach brought rich dividends. Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag’s compelling Officium Breve in Memoriam Andreae Szervanszky (1988-89) is sparse and austere yet its 15 short sections are wildly contrasting in character. The quartet’s exemplary interpretation appreciated the work’s predominantly mournful nature and etched out its intricate details with clarity and precision.

Accompanying the Kuss Quartet on this tour is violist Naoko Shimizu, principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, who slotted in seamlessly with the quartet’s refined approach in the concert’s two string quintets.

Receiving its world premiere performances on this tour, String Quintet is the new work Gordon Kerry has written as Musica Viva’s featured composer for the year. As with many of Kerry’s recent compositions, the quintet reveals a greater interest in melody and lyricism. The new quintet also resembles the composer’s 2011 symphony in its interwoven themes and assured structural cohesion.

Cast in five sections, the quintet’s three slow segments are interrupted briefly by two faster passages. Appealing melodic lines shift seamlessly between the five instruments, interspersed with densely swirling textures, inventive effects and high harmonics. Full ensemble tuttis are deployed sparingly as Kerry preferred to explore an intriguing array of solo and ensemble sonorities.

Throughout, the performers sustained an appealing, rich-toned sound while negotiating the sudden changes in metres, textures and mood.

The group’s poised, refined performance of Mozart’s string quintet No 3 K515 was even finer.

Tempos were swift enough to propel the music forward yet expansive enough for the performers to shape the longbreathed melodies.

Near-perfect ensemble balance and blend illuminated a wealth of inner-voice details while the group’s scrupulous dynamic and rhythmic control created an exquisite, elegant account of the minuet.

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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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