How is it that someone just 31 years old was able to write music that traverses the soul? Schubert wrote his Quintet in C major just before he died and its brooding intensity reveals profoundness beyond his years. The Australian String Quartet gave a darkly glowing performance in a concert that was the best I’ve heard from them in years. It was also a farewell concert for two of its members, violinist Anne Horton and cellist Rachel Johnston who seemed to play with extra intensity.


First violin Kristian Winther grows more musical charisma every concert. His assured leadership elucidated the depth of Schubert’s multifaceted music, from the humour and aggression in the syncopations of the opening movement to the edgy folk feel which became alarmingly brutal in the finale. Cellist Timo-Veikko Valve (principal cellist from the Australian Chamber Orchestra) integrated seamlessly with Johnston and brought strong attack to the fast passagework in the finale. The adagio movement was the heart of the work, with Horton and violist Stephen King spinning an introverted and achingly slow melody to the accompaniment of pizzicato cello.

Haydn’s String Quartet in D major was an ebullient opener to the concert. Winther demonstrated why the piece was nicknamed ‘Lark’ with his singing violin soaring above the other instruments in the first movement. The sighing adagio revealed flawless ensemble and the finale sizzled.

The quartet revelled in the acerbic, interesting sounds in Bartok’s Third Quartet, with sliding glissandos, bowing with the wood and other extended techniques. Any whiff of folk melody was given prominence, making the dissonant sound world a little more palatable. Occasional snippets of humour were shared with the audience as a cheeky aside. The coda was given plenty of elbow grease by Johnston and Winther shredded the hairs in his bow in his attack of the final chords. This was the concert I have been waiting for from this ensemble and a high note for Horton and Johnston to end on.
 This review copyright The West Australian 2013