Christopher’s Classics 2020 – 9 July 2020 NZ String Quartet Reviewed by Tony Ryan We’re back in a real concert hall at last thanks to Christopher’s Classics and the New Zealand String Quartet! Although many of us have been exploring online concerts and enjoying some very imaginative virtual performances, there’s nothing like being together in an actual performance venue with the musicians playing just a few metres in front of us. As the quartet’s cellist Rolf Gjelsten said before the group’s first piece, “We’re lucky to be in this country. Most of our colleagues in other parts of the world are still unable to rehearse or perform together” . . . and certainly not in the presence of a live audience. Christopher’s Classics’ 2020 season started back in early March with the first of a planned series of Beethoven-themed concerts and, surprisingly, only one of these has been replaced (by tonight’s concert) and another postponed until later in the year. And it’s still Beethoven year, so the New Zealand String Quartet’s programme featured three of his quartets; and we’re to get three more from them in another Christopher’s Classics concert scheduled for 20 August. Tonight’s concert began with one of the early quartets: Op. 18, No. 2. Despite the ‘early’ designation, it’s already the work of a very experienced composer who, by the time of its composition in 1899, had many distinguished works to his credit, not the least of which are ten of the piano sonatas including the famous Pathétique. This G Major Quartet still shows the influence of Haydn, but with many signs of the innovations and originality that would develop considerably in Beethoven’s later works. The NZSQ gave us a performance full of animation and poise, with a beautifully co-ordinated approach to phrasing, dynamics and articulation. But therein lies a problem – I never quite felt that the players conveyed a sense of spontaneity; everything emerged as carefully rehearsed and strictly controlled. Any sense of the-inspiration-of-the-moment seemed just out of reach. The three upper strings also restricted themselves to a very subtle degree of vibrato, which often limited the firmness and fullness of tone that I felt was needed. Considerable animation was visually present in faces and body language, but somehow failed to fully permeate into the actual sound. The same problem characterised the following E-flat Major ‘Harp’ Quartet, where even the delightfully ebullient Presto movement seemed just a little too held-in-check. An occasional slight imperfection in intonation was perhaps also a symptom of so many weeks of being unable to work together in the way that such a group relies on in order to achieve its maximum unity of ensemble. The E Minor ‘Rasumovsky’ Quartet contains a greater element of virtuosity and required the musicians to allow themselves more abandon and panache but, even here, they never permitted themselves to take any real risks, giving priority to unity of ensemble, balance and polish. That unity, balance and polish was vividly effective in all three works and the clear sense of animated involvement of all three musicians was extremely impressive, but when I compare this to the best of the many chamber music performances that have emanated from this stage, I just wished for a degree more spontaneity and the excitement that can come from risks taken in the inspiration of the moment.
Changes to the 2020 Season
This year has presented a unique challenge. We believe that music is important in our lives and we are committed to providing a programme of the highest calibre. We have not wanted to reduce our offerings for 2020. This has meant that we have had to make a number of changes to our 2020 programme. They are
This concert will now be held on 7:30 PM Thursday 27 August at The Piano. Beethoven ~ Cello Sonata No.3 in A major, Op. 69 ; John Psathas ~ Halo; Chopin ~ Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65.
The Marmen Quartet is based in London. With the border restrictions, their tour has had to be cancelled. Hopefully we will be able to include them in our 2022 season. The concert on 7 October will feature the NZTrio. Their programme is Beethoven – Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3; Christos Hatzis – Old Photographs'; Salina Fisher – Kintsugi (new NZ work); Dinuk Wijeratne– Love Triangle; Ravel– Piano Trio in A minor.
Flanked by beloved piano trios by Beethoven and Ravel, the heart of the programme comprises a new work by Salina Fisher and colourful works by two Juno Award-winning composers who have made Canada home. Greek-born Kristos Hatzis' fiery dance-inspired Old Photographs contrasts with the sinuous Middle Eastern and North Indian melodies of Love Triangle by Sri-Lankan-born Dinuk Wijeratene.
The remaining concerts in our 2020 season are unchanged:
New Zealand String Quartet - 20 August Beethoven ~ String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135; Beethoven ~ String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat major Finale, Op. 130; Beethoven – String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132s.
Aroha String Quartet with Robert Orr (oboe) - 3 September Britten ~ Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and String Trio in F minor, Op. 2; Beethoven ~ String Quartet No. 7 in F major, Op. 59 No. 1 “Rasumovsky”; Alex Taylor ~ Refrain for String Quartet; Bliss ~ Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet, op. 44.
Michael Houstoun - 28 November J.S. Bach~ Partita No.4 in D, BWV828 Bach - Busoni ~ Chaconne in D minor; Beethoven~Adagio sostenuto from Sonata in B flat, Op. 106 "Hammerklavier"; Beethoven ~ Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 “Waldstein”;
Music to Inspire
Our friend, Soo Bae (cello) has kindly provided us with the following youtube performance
Enjoy. P.S. At the end click on the photo to get another performance by Soo Bae.