Introducing New Zealand String Quartet's weekend concerts of late Beethoven, leader Helene Pohl came up with some useful and even provocative listening tips.
These works, she told us, were a key to the sound world in which Beethoven's deafness had imprisoned him; from the start, she stressed the deep mysteries that lie in their pages.
Pohl quoted the composer's brother who commented that he would like to hear one of the quartets four times because each instrument was so interesting. Perhaps we might like to construct our own unique interpretations, she asked, by choosing which line or lines we drew out from the mix?
Yet the rich maestoso chords that heralded Opus 127 showed that, after almost a quarter-of-a-century together, the four musicians have created their own unity and signature. Last night, the sheer vibrancy of their playing seemed to find its own harmony with the flickering candles and mysterious purple-lit recesses of St Matthew-in-the-City.
Before too long, the musicians asserted individual voices; eye caught eye, one player occasionally tilting forward to make a point. Beethoven's complex musical conversations could be read on these four faces.
In the very last quartet of Opus 135, NZSQ underlined Beethoven's nods to his old teacher, Haydn, and there was a poetical convergence of energies for the most serene of all the composer's slow movements.
Sunday's concert devoted its first half to Opus 130, the Grosse Fuge restored as its rightful Finale.
This Herculean movement, testing both stamina and intonation at times, was never less than a mighty shout of Beethovenian defiance. When all was over, one reflected on what had gone before, including a lingering Cavatina of almost Mahlerian intensity.
The C sharp minor Quartet of Opus 131 offered the perfect resolution. The opening fugue was velvet-like, a quality retained when minor turned to major, and Adagio to Allegro. One could again feel the group's intelligence at work, creating a context for the many musical ideas, especially when a later airy, sonorous Adagio seemed to evoke the world of the later Brahms.