This was my first chance to hear the Australian String Quartet since the change-over of first violin and viola. Hearing the dramatic flair and maturity of the new combination made me realise how unadventurous the previous line-up were. Below is my review published in the West Australian newspaper on Wednesday.
It is probably too early to expect the current Australian String Quartet line-up to have established their ‘sound’. The group has welcomed a new viola and first violin in the past twelve months and suffered a further shake up to their first program for the year with injured cellist Rachel Johnston withdrawing at the last minute. Despite this the quartet, with replacement cellist Michelle Wood, seemed comfortably gelled when they reached Perth, the final stop in the national tour. A combination of youthful zealousness and discerning musical interpretation helped create vivid sound worlds from the three works on the program.

Mozart’s String Quartet in D major K 499 was delivered with poise, shaped by delicate phrase endings and melodic inflection. Kristian Winther led from first violin with shining sound and fluid bowing, supported with astute  precision by Anne Horton on second violin and Stephen King on viola. Michelle Wood’s self-effacing cello contributions meant the ensemble balance was a little top-heavy at times.

The gloves were off for Louis Andriessen’s Charlie Parker tribute Facing Death. (check out the version on Youtube, much slower and less exciting.) The quartet took a fast, abrasive approach to the jazz riffs with a swinging be-bop drive (despite the absence of a rhythm section). Winther and King in particular played with idiomatic jazz groove. Andriessen’s heavy-handed jazz mannerisms become relentless around the twelve minute mark and despite the quartet’s virtuosic pace the piece seemed over-long.

The dramatic flair in Brahms’ Quartet in A minor Op 51 No 2 was appropriately understated and made a sharp contrast. The group made the most of Brahms’ ever-changing textures and each meandering phrase was an intriguing journey. The gentle transparency of the andante movement and the ghostly menuet were highlights.

The quartet continues to impress, even with last-minute changes. Let’s hope it makes the same good impression on the audience, which is dropping in subscription numbers and could do with an injection of youthful energy.


This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.