Concert Review: NZSQ, Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

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Michael Houstoun. Photo / APN
Michael Houstoun. Photo / APN

Chamber Music New Zealand's Schubertiade concert on Thursday night, featuring the New Zealand String Quartet with pianist Michael Houstoun and bassist Michael Steer, was a substantial affair.

Instead of the customary Lieder evening that most sentimental 19th century images portray, we were given two major chamber works, including the Trout Quintet.

The opening Notturno caught the mood perfectly. Here is a piece almost awash with Viennese gemutlichkeit, well caught by Helene Pohl and Rolf Gjelsten harmonising over Houstoun's zither-like chords.

With the Town Hall lacking the intimacy of a Viennese drawing-room, Schubert's delicate pizzicato effects did not quite register as they might have, but the most was made of the composer's spine-tingling shifts between major and minor.

Schubert's G major String Quartet was weightier fare and the NZSQ created textures bordering on the orchestral with banks of tremolo and nervy dotted rhythms.

Schubert is not providing tuneful diversion for the pleasure-loving Viennese here; this is the composer in the last years of his short life, singing from the soul.

A lyrical Andante con moto featured some glorious cello from Gjelsten; a firecracker of a Scherzo relaxed into a waltz-like trio while the relentless Tarantella of the finale had an appropriately grim vivaciousness.

After interval, the Trout Quintet brought back the smiling Schubert, eager to entertain. Steer's resonant pizzicati placed the opening Allegro vivace very much in the mould of a Viennese serenade and the players clearly enjoyed passing the tunes around in some of the composer's prettiest writing.

The key to this work lies in its finale, a nonchalant, gentle country dance, with tunes that may well have had Schubert's audience pulling back their chairs for some dancing space. This might have been a testing task in the Town Hall but the panache of these musicians' performance almost tempted one to try.

What: Schubertiade

Where: Auckland Town Hall

- NZ Herald

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