Musica Viva has a tradition of encouraging young quartets. Their latest ‘discovery’ is the Kelemen Quartet, winners of the Musica Viva prize at the 2011 Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. The Hungarian group began their Australian tour in Perth with an intriguing program which paired quartets with fugal finales by Haydn and Beethoven alongside a world premiere by Ross Edwards and a work by their compatriot Bartok.
As you would expect the group gave an engrossing performance of Bartok’s Fourth Quartet with graceful melodiousness and muscled interjections. The extended string techniques of the second movement were well executed to create smears and sprays of sound; the nocturnal atmosphere of the third movement was also effectively conveyed.
Ross Edwards was present for the premiere of his String Quartet No 3 Summer Dances which blended an interest in the Australian environment, mysticism, medieval plainsong and rhythmic patterns inspired by insects with, as the composer put it, ‘radically eccentric eclecticism’. Perhaps most striking was the similarities with Bartok’s quartet. Both had five movements with a central nocturne and both layered vivid patterns to construct compelling emotional tableaus. The (I think unintentional) pairing of the two emphasised the folk nature of Edwards’ accented offbeats and the organic origins in Bartok. In the hands of the Hungarian musicians Edwards’ delicate textures had a dark intensity and there was a gypsy twist to his rhythms.
Beethoven and Haydn came off less successfully. Haydn’s Opus 20 Quartet in C major suffered from intonation issues and the quartet struggled to find the more subtle but vital rhythmic poise of the classical string quartet. In the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth String Quartet the opposing themes were contrasted with great antagonism but the andante movement was laboriously slow. Momentum was regained for a bristling finale where the fugue was constructed with manic frenzy. The inconsistencies of this ensemble will, I think, be ironed out as they expand their repertoire further. Their inventiveness and powerful unity – the essence of string quartet playing – will remain.
This review copyright The West Australian Newspaper 2014