Elias String Quartet reviewed in The Australian

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Impassioned lyricism brought to the fore

Reviewer: Murray Black

Published in The Australian, 21st August 2013

SOME Australian composers have struck gold with their second string quartets.

Paul Stanhope’s second essay in the genre, for example, was a very impressive achievement. Matthew Hindson’s new String Quartet No 2, the centrepiece of the Elias String Quartet’s national tour, turned out to be equally accomplished.

Like Stanhope’s piece, Hindson’s quartet unfolded in a single unbroken span comprising a slower section surrounded by faster passages. Well-proportioned and focused, it displayed an assured sense of structure and an inventive approach.

Hindson created an imaginative array of colours and textures in the quartet’s faster sections. Taut motifs and expressive melodic fragments were interwoven with tremolo, pizzicato and col legno effects. The Elias String Quartet’s strong tempo and dynamic contrasts and rhythmic verve captured the music’s energy and intensity.

In some of Hindson’s works, his slower sections have failed to fully convince. Not so here. Eerie glissandi and hushed high harmonics established a mysterious atmosphere while the performers’ rich tone colours celebrated the passages of impassioned lyricism.

With the other two works on the program, the Elias returned to classics of the repertoire by Haydn and Beethoven. Both were stamped by stylistic refinement. In its stylish account of Haydn’s Op 77 No 2 quartet, the group demonstrated the benefits of its work with early music specialist Trevor Pinnock. The quartet’s ensemble sound was warm and appealing yet sinewy enough to sustain textual clarity. It also maintained excellent balances, thereby revealing Haydn’s rich array of inner-voice details. In the minuet, rhythmic playfulness brought out the composer’s often-overlooked joviality.

In his three Razumovsky quartets, Beethoven made a quantum leap in the development of the string quartet. The Elias account of the second of the set captured its dramatic power and lyrical introspection.

The group also demonstrated impressive timbral variety as its well-blended sound was richer and heavier than in the Haydn quartet. Swift speeds, alert rhythms and forceful unison attack generated momentum and excitement. However, astutely employed tempo and dynamic contrasts highlighted the moments of quiet reflection set amid the whirlpools of swirling turbulence.

The molto adagio slow movement is the work’s emotional core. The Elias sustained a slow-burning intensity that intermittently erupted into furious fortissimo firestorms. The impact was utterly compelling and moving.

Brisbane, tonight; Newcastle, tomorrow; Sydney, Saturday; Perth, August 27; Adelaide, August 29; Melbourne, August 31 and September 3; Canberra, September 5.

Elias String Quartet
City Recital Hall, Sydney, August 19.

Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

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