Monday's evening of quintets featuring Canadian clarinettist James Campbell with the New Zealand String Quartet could not have featured finer music than Mozart and Brahms. Both composers' Quintets emerged from special friendships with a clarinettist, Mozart with Anton Stadler, Brahms with Richard Muhlfeld.
The radiant performances also reflected what Campbell later described as a group of "good friends and wonderful colleagues" with a decade of musical collaboration behind them.
There was bright sunlight in the opening Allegro of Mozart's 1789 Clarinet Quintet, with some sprightly serenading and sinuous tunefulness. The serenity of the Larghetto accommodated graceful exchanges between Campbell and Helene Pohl, while a sense of spirited dialogue permeated the final set of beautifully characterised variations.
After interval, Campbell introduced the Brahms Quintet as the most iconic work of the composer's autumnal period, preparing us for feelings of resigned acceptance, reflection and nostalgia.
In fact, in just 40 minutes, a whole world was laid out before us. Pohl and Douglas Beilman's smooth fall of thirds and sixths was an enticing introduction to a first movement in which compositional complexity was never permitted to threaten sacrosanct song.
The miracle came in the following Adagio, in which the emotional ebb and flow was shared between soulful clarinet and muted strings, making what could look like fussy textures on paper into the clearest filigree.
It was enterprising of Chamber Music New Zealand to commission three young award-winning New Zealanders to write "portable vignettes" for the NZSQ, gathered together under the title of The Travelling Portmanteau. These pieces are moving around the country in style on this tour.
Karlo Margetic in his Sinnet and Tabea Squire with her Jet-Lag both showed they have been listening to Bartok. Margetic made much of spidery, eerie textures; Squire enjoyed the thrust and tussle of playful harmonies.
Two pieces by Natalie Hunt were jazz-tinted. The second, Data Entry Groove, with the directive of "laid back funk", drew laughter with its riffs and good-natured clowning by the musicians. It should have a special place in the NZSQ's encore bag.
What: New Zealand String Quartet
Where: Auckland Town Hall