Concert Review: New Zealand String Quartet, St Matthew-in-the-City

By William Dart

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The NZ String Quartet. Photo / Supplied
The NZ String Quartet. Photo / Supplied

There was an impish glint in Helene Pohl's eye as she introduced the New Zealand String Quartet's Hungarian Rhapsodies concert, telling us we would have to wait until after the interval for the relaxing part of the programme.

In the meantime, we were in for a "real wild ride" with Bartok's Second Quartet.

I once experienced Pohl and her colleagues entrance a primary classroom with this work; tonight they achieved the same level of communication with a considerably more senior audience.

The NZSQ drew some impressive gestures and textures from Bartok's first movement. When the opening theme returned, emotionally intensified, Pohl invested it with a real sense of yearning.

The second movement delivered fervour to the point of fury; the final Lento would erupt in sonorous passions, but only after exquisite lyricism, from all the players.

Perhaps Rolf Gjelsten made too much of Ligeti's First Quartet being "the stuff of thrillers" with "graveyard scenes" on the side; in the wake of the Bartok, it was more than apparent that Ligeti's enviable achievement is the bringing together of head and heart, balancing a concise and cerebral construction with a volatile, unpredictable palette.

These musicians have the ability to draw the listener into the work, allowing one to experience a soundworld transforming and changing around one. It was a honoured vantage point from which to hear evocations of cimbalom, rogue perfect cadences and the allure of a bluesy signing-off.

Two shortish works from Liszt's misunderstood twilight years, crisply delivered by pianist Peter Nagy, provided a transition to the relaxing part of the evening that we had been promised.

Erno Dohnanyi's 1914 Second Piano Quintet could not have been better treated. Nagy's piano rippled sonorously around soaring strings with the sort of undulating lines that could have slipped from Richard Strauss' workbench.

Alas, despite the lavish artistry, with some memorably beautiful solos, this was third-drawer stuff, especially in terms of Dohnanyi's melodic invention. A curiosity, to be sure, but a rather unsatisfying finale.

- NZ Herald

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