Concert: New Zealand String Quartet, Pah Homestead

New Zealand String Quartet.
New Zealand String Quartet.

A modestly-sized audience attended this poorly publicised concert, just hours before the New Zealand String Quartet flew out for its regular summertime touring in Europe and the United States.

Unfortunately, the performance needed more polish if one was to overlook the conservatism of the programming.

Nevertheless, one's heart went out to the hi-energy ensemble, with new second violinist Monique Lapins, contending with belligerent air conditioning that almost became a fifth and unwelcome member of the group.

Perhaps it was this struggle that compromised delicate nuancing in two Rachmaninov pieces, especially in the scherzo's pianissimos and triple pianos.

Leader Helene Pohl likened the first half of the concert to moving from one bon bon to another. If so, Mendelssohn's D major Quartet should have been a little sweeter; the NZSQ's signature vivacity didn't atone for the ruptured sheen of the opening Allegro or Pohl's wavering intonation in the Minuet.

Violist Gillian Ansell burst through at the start of Smetana's From My Life with her customary aplomb and, paired with Lapins, fanfared boldly when the composer calls for faux trumpeting in the second movement.

The D flat major section that followed revealed some of the quartet's most euphonious playing, and the intense drama of the work's final pages was vividly captured, after a thoughtful, if occasionally scarred, Largo sostenuto.

This group, founded in 1987, was once the flagship of professional chamber music in New Zealand, taking the complete Bartok and Beethoven quartets around the country and commissioning many local composers.

It is sad to see, for its August Heartland tour, Aucklanders are relegated to music by Mozart, Dvorak, Mendelssohn and Schubert, with pieces by Gareth Farr and Gillian Whitehead reserved for more fortunate audiences.

What: New Zealand String Quartet
Where: Pah Homestead
When: Wednesday, June 8

- Weekend magazine

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