Perfection is a rare commodity in the performing arts but, on Friday, the Takacs Quartet gave us just that.
A fascinating selection of works written between 1904 and 1928 revealed three composers forging individual voices in a new and volatile century.
First violinist Edward Dusinberre explained there would be chills at first in Bartok's 1927 Third Quartet and a subsequent Allegro might sound like a wild party threatening to get out of control.
The opening pages did exude a chilly atmosphere, but equally chilling was the almost sculpted precision of the ensemble.
Later, any celebrations were firmly marshaled, as we were swept to a swirl of offbeat rhythms, chattering col legno and eerie ponticello playing.
Violist Geraldine Walther made the sumptuous most of her lyrical lines and one was struck by the fullness of the group sound, taking advantage of an extended stage.
The all-pervading restlessness of Janacek's 1928 quartet, Intimate Letters, comes from its mix of folkish outbursts and soulful reflection (Walther at her considerable best in the Adagio).
It catches the emotional fluctuations of the composer's ill-fated romantic crush on an unattainable love, inspiring dialogues even more potent when taken on by these four extraordinary musicians.
After interval, Ravel's 1904 String Quartet did not conceal its emotions behind a veneer of Gallic elegance.
There was passion in the undulating Allegro with heart-stopping moments when Dusinberre's violin took to ethereal heights against shivery tremolo.
Shading dropped to pianissimo and beyond, memorably in the closing bars of the slow movement; before that, a very deliberately paced Scherzo dealt out some almost Bartokian boisterousness.
Cellist Andras Fejer revealed later that Borodin's Nocturne would not have been his choice of encore.
Yet one would not have guessed from his glorious lyricism in the piece while, around him, the group created a delicate thread of whispered conversations.
Another superb offering from Chamber Music New Zealand and, thanks to Radio New Zealand Concert, one that can be enjoyed again on air next Monday evening.By William Dart Email William