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Australian String Quartet: Boundless


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The much-awarded Australian String Quartet’s program, Boundless, offered works by three celebrated composers in an evening of fascinating musicianship at the Adelaide Town Hall last Friday.

Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven created the first two in 1799 and 1810, respectively. Béla Bartók’s piece was the baby of the three, having premiered in 1935, and was considered a challenging composition for audiences in its day, something requiring intense practice by the ASQ.

Joseph Haydn’s Opus 77, on the other hand, was aimed at a populist audience. This enchanting piece began with the allegro’s spritely flourishes, anchored by mellow and sometimes slightly guttural hums from the violoncello, before shifting into a sombre adagio that was embroidered with passages of short, chirping notes. The menuetto was vigorous and the finale full of attack.

Beethoven’s Serioso Quartet Op. 95 was subject to determined mood swings and sudden switches in tempo and key. It was lyrical one moment and ebullient the next. The violoncello introduced plaintive and beguiling rounds from the other three instruments in the second movement that lead into the heightened drama of the third and fourth. Kristian Winther’s playing was briefly rock guitarist style with lots of body input and a little grimacing.

Bartók’s Fifth Quartet might have seemed an odd companion to the others but proved a scintillating one. It began with murder-mystery darkness worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock movie but did not take itself seriously all of the time, briefly lolloping along and even toying with a country and western style motif in the first movement. There were unexpected playing styles, with banjo-like pizzicato and trills in the second movement suggestive of piccolos.

Bartók imbued the central scherzo with some humour too, allowing it to squirrel around a touch before settling into a series of delightful swirls and cascades. The ASQ rendered this and the remaining movements with aplomb, including the quizzical notes and a short and sweet diversion in the finale. For all that cheekiness it was also moving and seductive. The whole of this difficult quartet was handled beautifully by the ASQ.

The instruments played – two violins, a viola, and a violoncello – were all crafted in one maker’s workshop in Turin in the 18th century. They deserved to be played as well as they were on the night in an altogether captivating performance full of vitality.



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