New Zealand String Quartet has so often been thwarted by unsatisfactory Auckland venues; its Dangerous Liaisons concert was seriously impaired by the unsympathetic acoustics of Auckland Art Gallery's Mackelvie Gallery.
In his introduction, cellist Rolf Gjelsten suggested that the Old Masters hanging around us might reflect the passions of the music about to be played. His description of Janacek's Intimate Letters as "a work carved out in living flesh" proved ironic, when hard walls and vaulted ceiling conspired to give the composer's more fiery writing an uncomfortable rawness and edge.
Allowing for the distraction of this sonic overload, one could sense a tight and taut performance underneath it all, with a shrewd understanding of the score's mercurial mood shifts.
Jack Body's Saetas was given in its original 2002 version, with Gjelsten trading cello for accordion. The four prayer-like movements projected emotional starkness, especially when the composer was inspired by the songs and sonorities of medieval Sephardic music.
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The musicians sustained an almost spiritual intensity, a mix of passion and anguish well caught in Body's opening gesture; a cry, played and sung, from Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony.
After such a demanding first half, interval proved rather grim, with the absence of any available refreshments. But seated once again, the mellifluous Adagio of Mendelssohn's Opus 13 quartet reminded us that the NZSQ recorded Mendelssohn's quartets with distinction some years ago.
Familiarity and affection could be heard in the second movement's conversational counterpointing and a particularly jaunty Intermezzo. Alas, as the work progressed, passages that should have been a rush of breathless exhilaration, were blurred in the Mackelvie Mix.
What: New Zealand String Quartet
Where: Auckland Art Gallery
Reviewer: William Dart