After 17 years performing, Enso String Quartet still has the freshness and attack that spurred one critic to rationalise the group's smouldering power as half honey and half molten lava.

The musicians opened their Auckland concert with Haydn, as they did here four years ago, this time choosing the final quartet of the composer's Opus 20.

The emphasis was on the earthy; a rustic first movement gained thrust and directness by forgoing repeats, while individual touches elsewhere included the Adagio's lingering outbursts, in which time itself seemed to stop and listen.

The Ensos have recorded the complete string quartets of Argentina's Alberto Ginastera and the second was on offer tonight.


Leader Maureen Nelson warned us to listen for finger-nail pizzicato and spoke affectionately of their "south-of-the-border Bartok".

Ginastera's 1958 score received an exhaustive workout. Fast movements, ending with a possessed Furioso, encompassed the muted mysteriousness of a Presto magico. An expressive Adagio angoscioso evoked lonely pampas plains.

The evening would end with a sonorous rendition of Sibelius's Voces intimae quartet.

The Finnish composer's symphonies have very much defined his style, and one felt a symphonic striving in the Enso's opening movement, with those telltale rhythms we associate with the later Lilburn; yet there was immense tenderness in the searching Adagio di molto.

Alex Taylor's newly-commissioned a coincidence of surfaces intrigued. Tonight we heard one of two pieces written to be played simultaneously. Marked "sospeso, luminous, floating", it came across as a backdrop for its more fiery partner.

Yet, even so, one was drawn into its tautly controlled textures, from initial clustering dissonances to later imperturbable scales.

Those curious to hear the two pieces played together should catch RNZ Concert's broadcast of Enso's Wellington concert on June 24.

An encore was short and sweet as promised - a lilting Bagels on the Malecon by Lev Zhurbin, delivering Enso honey with a Cuban beat.

What: Enso String Quartet

Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, Friday