Review: Quartet delivers magical programme seasoned with Hungarian zest

By William Dart

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The magic was there at the start when the Kelemen Quartet launched Wednesday's Chamber Music New Zealand concert with the mercurial Adagio that opens Mozart's Dissonance Quartet and gives it its name.

Once the Allegro was under way, this lively, youngish group - only three years together and playing with a stand-in cellist - served us model Mozart with a dash of Hungarian seasoning.

Mere scales unleashed rainbows of colours, while the Andante cantabile imbued its warm, rich palette with an affecting tenderness.

Haydn's D major Quartet of Opus 20 saw these musicians revisiting the classic repertoire, determined to reveal its composer as the adventurer he was. The first movement's obsession with repeated notes made for a dark-tinged ambience, the Minuet knocked us about with flying sforazandi and the Finale was the missing link between the storms of Vivaldi and Beethoven.

Cellist Akos Takacs, deputising for an injured Dora Kokas, was the soul of lyricism in his second variation of the slow movement.

Elsewhere, the group focused on its Hungarian heritage. A Kodaly Serenade for two violins and viola was not first-rank music; more than once I found myself wondering what Bartok might have done with it.

Nevertheless, Barnabas Kelemen, Katalin Kokas and Gabor Homoki gave it the respect and love that a masterpiece might receive. The rewards were an astonishingly big, resonant sound, more than a few spirited dalliances on the folk side and Kelemen's yearning melodies in its central movement.

Bartok's Fourth Quartet is the pinnacle of his half-dozen quartets and the musicians channelled energies towards and then away from its atmospheric slow movement.

With so much to catch the breath, one was especially taken by the absolute synchronicity of the second movement and the wild pizzicato scherzo.

Last week, Kelemen proved quite the jester when I interviewed him; now I realised he had kept his best joke for the performance. After asking us if one could imagine a string quartet concert without Schubert, he and his colleagues took us on an edge-of-the-seat whirlwind ride through the last of Beethoven's Razumovsky Finales.

- NZ Herald

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